Enough Is Enough: Federalize Elections

What is it about Florida and elections, anyway? Is it something in the water down there?

Just when everyone was getting comfortable with our new 2008 presidential primary election schedule, Florida comes along and upsets the whole applecart... so we may not even get a chance to see if it would have worked or not.

I've written about this subject before, laying out the mechanics of the new primary schedule, and (more recently) the political implications for the upcoming presidential election.

The basic plan was thus:

Iowa caucuses (1/14)

Nevada caucuses (1/19)

New Hampshire primary (1/22)

South Carolina primary (1/29)

...and then all other states vote on 2/5 or later.

But now Florida has threatened this new scheme by moving their primary up to the same date (January 29th) as South Carolina's. Florida unilaterally decided that they were a better representative state for the South, so they decided to steal South Carolina's new early primary date.

South Carolina, it should be noted, is not amused. Both of the national parties in Washington are seriously not amused. Iowa and New Hampshire are downright livid. This may soon translate into a "bidding war" of leapfrogging dates that push the first primary voting into December -- or even up to (as one state representative threatened): "Hallowe'en, if we need to."

This insanity must stop. Now.

As Florida has now proven, the state governments can't be trusted to "play well with others." Not even the threat of withholding delegates to the national conventions fazed Florida from declaring itself more important than everyone else. So radical steps must be taken to restore some sort of order to the primary process.

The time has come to federalize presidential elections.

I do not call lightly for this step, and realize it would face an uphill fight to becoming reality. It would probably require amending the Constitution, which is always tough. This doesn't mean it isn't worth attempting, or that it won't eventually happen.

The federal government must take control of the election process for the presidential elections, including the primaries. This would simultaneously solve two problems that have been getting successively worse with each election cycle: the primary calendar race to the front of the line, and the questionable voting practices in certain areas of the country.

Think about it: all of the problems surrounding various different voting machines could be solved by mandating a federal set of standards which all voting systems must meet to be certified (which would include a verifiable paper trail, and open source software, at a bare minimum).

The problem of when to hold the primaries could be solved in a number of ways. We could just effectively "give up" and announce a national primary date (hopefully in the spring or even early summer). All states vote on July 4th, for instance -- what better day to remind people of their patriotic duty? The best primary reform idea I've heard of is the concept of rotating regional primaries; which would split the country into four regions, and then each region would vote on the same day, one month apart from each other. The regions would take turns going first, and then rotate into last place on the calendar for the next election... and so on.

There would, of course, still be the question of "Who goes first?" Again, there are any number of ways to solve this. Just give in, and let New Hampshire and Iowa go first. Or modify this (to the way it was supposed to happen next year), by adding Nevada and South Carolina to the early voting process, in order to more accurately represent nationwide minorities. Or have the smallest states (by population) in each region be one of the front four. Or have each region decide on its own. Or whatever -- as I said, there are many ways to mix the retail-style politics (which Iowans and New Hampshirites so pride themselves on) with the wholesale politics (i.e., "accessible only by television ads") of the larger states. But have the earliest voting in, say, February, with the first major contest in March (...at the very earliest).

The two major parties need to discuss a few different ways of laying the primaries out, and then come to a consensus on one single format, and enact it into federal law (even if it takes a constitutional amendment to do so). Because if a solution is not imposed from Washington, the states are just going to keep leapfrogging until the primaries are over a full calendar year before the general election. Which does nobody any good... unless you count the television stations raking in the millions in campaign ad dollars.

If I were a mainstream journalist asking presidential candidates debate questions (Hello, Brian Williams? Chris Matthews?), I would be asking: "Do you support reforming our primary system, even if it means federalizing the process?" Or even: "How would you solve the growing crisis in the primary election calendar?"

Because you can bet your bottom dollar that if Florida doesn't back down, there's going to be a free-for-all stampede of other states pushing their way to the front of the line. Which could lead to chaos, in many future elections to come.

 

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