THE BLOG

Reforming The Primary Calendar

The system by which we choose our presidential candidates obviously is flawed.

The primary calendar we need most is one that is built on an orderly and rational plan -- one that is based on mathematics and on recent historical outcomes. This would provide for a more effective and equitable system than the one we have now.

The following factors are the key ones to consider:

Margin of Victory

- States would be placed in order according to each state's margin of victory from the preceding general election.

For example, John Kerry won Wisconsin by 0.3% and George W. Bush won Iowa by 0.9%; conversely, Kerry won Massachusetts with 62%, and Bush won Utah with approximately 70%. Therefore, the Primary calendar I propose would commence with primaries being held in states such as Wisconsin and Iowa -- and would close with such states as Massachusetts and Utah.

- The purpose of ordering the states according to the margin of victory is to help the parties determine which candidates can appeal to those states that have found themselves most recently on the Electoral Divide. A narrow margin in the general election demonstrates an evenly divided electorate. In this scenario, a candidate who appeals to Wisconsin and New Mexico is more likely to appeal to a greater number of Americans on the whole.

Iowa, New Hampshire, and Fairness

- Iowa and New Hampshire might object to this new system, given their longstanding tradition on being the first states to cast their ballots. However, so long as Iowa and New Hampshire retain their record of being fairly bipartisan states, they'll maintain their position towards the front of the primary schedule.

- As we've recently seen in the case of Michigan and Florida, just because a state should have its primary later in the season does not mean that that state will not prove invaluable to the process. Pennsylvania won't be until April 22nd this year but could very well decide the fate of the 2008 Democratic nomination.

- This new system allows other states to play a greater role in how the parties select their candidates. For example, Wisconsin and New Mexico would have been two of the states to get the limelight in 2008, followed soon thereafter by Ohio and Pennsylvania. Likewise, based on the results to come in November of 2008, a still-different slate of states could have a more significant role come 2012. A rotating system will be healthier and fairer.

Groupings of Five, and Timing & Spacing.

- By placing states into groupings of five, no one state will be overly-emphasized on any given date.

- Candidates will still need to address the concerns of individual states, whilst having to maintain an overall national platform. For example, a candidate will be less able to campaign against NAFTA in Ohio whilst campaigning for it in New Mexico.

- Given that each state has its own system for electing its delegates, these groupings of five states will act as an overall balancer. States with caucuses, states with open primaries, and states with closed primaries can all coexist within a grouping, therefore no one system will hold too much influence on any given date.

- Primaries will be held biweekly, giving candidates and the media enough time to process and respond to the outcomes of each wave of primaries.

- Washington DC will be placed in the same grouping as whichever state -- Virginia or Maryland -- is closer to its own margin of victory.

- American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Americans-Abroad -- not having Electoral votes of their own -- will determine their own Primary dates, so long as they occur between the first and last groupings.

Under these proposed guidelines, the calendar for the 2008 primaries would have been:

January 2008

Tue, 1/8

Wisconsin
Iowa
New Mexico
New Hampshire
Ohio

Tue, 1/22

Pennsylvania
Nevada
Michigan
Minnesota
Oregon

Tue, 2/5

Colorado
Florida
New Jersey
Missouri
Washington

Tue, 2/12

Delaware
Virginia
Hawaii
Maine
California

Tue, 2/26

Connecticut
Illinois
Arizona
Arkansas
North Carolina

Tue, 3/11

West Virginia
Maryland
District of Columbia
Tennessee
Louisiana
Georgia

Tue, 3/25

South Carolina
New York
Mississippi
Kentucky
Vermont

Tue, 4/8

Montana
Indiana
Rhode Island
South Dakota
Texas

Tue, 4/22

Massachusetts
Kansas
Alaska
Alabama
North Dakota

Tue, 5/6

Oklahoma
Nebraska
Idaho
Wyoming
Utah

by Will Bower
(with contributions by Mike Shaffer)