Friday, January 12, 2007

Primary Colors

The Speaker's proposal, made during his inaugural address, to move Illinois' presidential primary from March 18 to February 5 certainly caught a lot of people, including the Obama campaign, off-guard.

And there is enough speculation as to the motivations of 'He Who Does Nothing Without a Plan', that I am not going to add my own theories to the mix at this point (although I do have some good ones).

I wholeheartedly agree that the present system puts waaay too much emphasis on states that are non-reflective of the country as a whole, while at the same time relegating other significant states to irrelevance when it comes to selecting presidential nominees.

But at the same time, I also am wary of the costs and logistics of having a presidential primary at a different time from the primaries for the rest of the elected offices. It is hard enough to get people to vote as is, and I think that a bifurcated primary would only serve to further depress turnout for 'down ticket' races.

Instead, I'll invite you to think about a plan offered several years ago by the National Association of Secretaries of State which involves rotating regional presidential primaries. The proposal divides the country into four geographic areas (Eastern, Southern, Midwestern and Western) and rotates which region would vote first each March. The other regions would hold their primary elections in April, May, and June. A different part of the country would vote first once in each sixteen year cycle.

Under the plan, traditional early primary/caucus states New Hampshire and Iowa retain early election status so that under-funded and less widely known candidates will still have an opportunity to compete through retail one-on-one politics rather than the costly media-driven campaigns that are required in larger states.

The NASS plan would create four primary regions:

Southern Region

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Eastern Region

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Midwestern Region

Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Western Region

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Guam.

Now under this plan, once every 16 years, we would have a primary as late as June, which many good government advocates would like, but does not sit well with many party regulars. Personally, I think that a campaign is a campaign, whether your primary is in February or June. And having less time between a primary election and a general election may in fact provide for a more concentrated campaign.

While I am not sure that the NASS plan is the best idea out there, I do think that is is preferable to our present system.

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