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JUNE 5, 2008 12:41PM

How to Fix the Democratic Primaries

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If I were Howard Dean for a few months late this year/early next, here is what I would do to fix the primary system.

 1.  Get rid of caucuses.  These are by their very nature undemocratic and not worthy of a party that calls itself democratic.   These are like huge Amway conventions, where you go in, and you've got to sell the candidate you support.  Then they take a PUBLIC vote.

Where's the democracy in that?  A public vote?  Whatever happened to voting in secret?

 2.  Make it winner take all.  No more of this proportional representation crap.  If we had proportional representation in 2000, Al Gore would have been President.  We don't do things that way in the general election, and the primaries are like the preseason.  The NFL doesn't change the rules in the preseason so that having one foot down with possession of the ball counts as a catch.  So why should we change the rules for our equivalent of the preseason?  Play the game like you're going to play it when it's for real.

 3.  If you don't have a vote for the President in the general election, you don't get a vote for the President in the primary.  Yes, I realize as a Clinton supporter that this would have hurt my candidate.  So be it.  Puerto Rico should not get any delegates until they get electoral votes in the general election.  Why?  Because they don't count when it's time to play for real.

4.  Set the primary season up based on how close the race was during the last election and break ties by population.  I'd group the states into nine groups of five and one group of six (DC has electoral votes).  I'd rank them in order of ascending spread between the two candidates in the last election.  And I'd break any ties by population.

Let's face it, this election, and any other election, will be decided by about a dozen states.  If you're a democrat and you've got to even think about spending money on ad buys in Massachusetts, you're finished.  And if you're a republican and you've got to think about a media strategy in South Dakota, it's over. 

Under my system, we'd get to find out which candidate can win those swing states with large populations first.  That's what's going to be critical anyway come the fall.

5.  No more superdelegates.  You win it on the field or you don't win it at all.

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election, primaries, clinton, obama

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Well, I agree with one of your ideas wholeheartedly: #5.

I'm surprised there has not been a bigger groundswell to remove the vile things.

I also agree with Stella on breaking the IA/NH stranglehold, though that will be the hardest to achieve in practice.

As for presidential caucuses, have you ever been to one, Tony? I went to Iowa in 2004 and got kicked out of the room, but got a bit of a look, and we had them in Colorado this year, where I ended up chairing mine. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and not just because I was leading it. Truly democracy in action. I have voted endless times, and this was so much more powerful.

And part of the reason I think I understand some of the Hillary anger, is because I stood in a room in Denver in February where heated Barack and Hillary supporters had to talk to each other, and try to convince each other. (I was also surprised by the intensity of the anger of many of my Obama peers about Hillary's vote on Iraq. It was much different than reading polls.)

Who said democracy had to be secret? That's not how the Greeks did it when they invented the concept (more or less). Obviously, secrecy is important in general elections to avoid bribery and so forth, but other than practical concern, how is it undemocratic to do it publicly? I think we've been trained to associate secret and democratic, but I don't think it's a legit linkage. But I'm open to persuasion.
#3 sounds like a no-brainer, too, but i've thought about it for a long time and disagree.

the primaries are not just a dry run for the fall. yes, that's a big part of it: determining who has the best chance in the fall, but that's not the whole thing. it's about all the people choosing the prez or the nominee.

there is a philosophical question about whether the territories should participate in choosing the prez--or possibly whether they should get a full vote.

the powers that be have chosen to leave them out for the general election, but the parties each have a separate choice on whether to allow them a voice in the nomination. both major parties have said yes: they reside within U.S. territory, so they should have a voice in who we choose.

i think that's great. give them a voice.

they are already shut out in the fall: i don't think it's a good idea that because they're already shut out in half of the process, they should be excluded completely.
Reform, yes. But no, no, no!

1. "Caucuses" --Different states do caucuses differently. In Minnesota (and I think Texas?), you do a private ballot vote at the beginning of the caucus where other party business is conducted. It's not like Iowa where there are all sorts of strange mathematics involved. I think caucuses are great for local party entities, but perhaps a primary vote would be in order.

2. "Make it winner take all." -NO! You write in #1 that the process should be democratic--winner take all ain't democratic. Allocating delegates by proportion for the state AND within congressional districts (or state districts in TX) might be a bit overboard. But let's have a democratic process.

3. "If you don't have a vote for the President in the general election, you don't get a vote for the President in the primary. Yes, I realize as a Clinton supporter that this would have hurt my candidate." --I'm an Obama supporter who supports the inclusion of territories and abroad Democrats in the delegate selection. It is a shame that these voters are barred from voting in the general election. We should move in the direction of inclusion, rather than disenfranchise them further.

4. "Set the primary season up based on how close the race was during the last election and break ties by population." Not a bad idea. I personally favor some of the regional approaches. Each region rotates their month every four years. I understand you want to set up a system that selects candidates that can win, but we shouldn't go as far to emulate the ancient and undemocratic electoral college.

5. "No more superdelegates" I could go either way on this one. Perhaps we could go halfway and lessen the power of superdelegates by giving them all half votes or something.

My own thoughts on reform are here: http://www.doubtcreptintohisvoice.com/2008/04/changing-presidential-primary-process_14.html
I agree much more with Skeptic's approach.

And I disagree with your underlying premise: that the goal is a sort of dry run of the fall election.

I think that's a bad premise for two reasons:

1. Practical. It just doesn't work. There is very little association between winning a state in the primary and winning it in the general. You have two completely different electorates. It SOUNDS like it would work that way, but in actuality, it does not.

2. Philosophical/practical: I think you get neither the best president, nor the strongest fall candidate by trying to guess who will run best in the fall. Voters are notoriously bad at predicting the behavior of other voters. (Eg, John Kerry in 2004. Al Gore in 2000 . . . )

The fall process has enough flaws--especially the winner-take-all of the electoral college. Let's not emulate its flaws.

Let's get the best process that picks the best candidate that we actually want to be president.

You may feel some of your suggestions do that, but they are not argued that way. They seem to be argued in terms of what will help most in the fall. I think that just:

a. risks getting us shitty candidates in the fall to choose between--arggghhh!!!

b. doesn't produce winners for the fall anyway.
My thinking when I put this together was that you want a candidate who can win in the fall. That's the goal, right? To pick someone who wins in the fall.

Well, if you want to win in the fall, you need to play under the same rules as the fall.

And no regional rotation. It's all based on the numbers. The tightest five states go first, then two weeks later, the next five, and so on.

This takes away emotion from the process.

No, I don't like the electoral college but it is here to stay. There's no way we're getting rid of it because we need 38 states to say okay to dumping it and that ain't gonna happen.

This won't guarantee a victory in November but it's a hell of a lot better than the system we have now!
"That's the goal, right? To pick someone who wins in the fall."

I would say, no. That's one of the goals. The other, is to pick a really good candidate.

Picking someone shitty who will win in the fall nets you a shitty president. I'm not in the market for a shitty president, even if he/she is from my party.

"Well, if you want to win in the fall, you need to play under the same rules as the fall."

I think that's a fallacy which has been disproven many times. It sounds like it would be true, but is not. The spring and fall voting groups are so wildly different that the first group playing by the second group's rules does not produce someone likely to win with the second group.
Okay, Dave. So you say that playing by the same rules as you'll play under in the fall doesn't prepare you to win.

Can you please provide me with evidence to show this?

Keep in mind that the current system has provided us with two wins in the past 28 years. That's not a record I'd be proud of.

And of course the "democratic wing of the democratic party" says that the person who won those two times isn't really a democrat, which steams me to no end.
"Okay, Dave. So you say that playing by the same rules as you'll play under in the fall doesn't prepare you to win.

Can you please provide me with evidence to show this?"

That's close to what I'm saying. I wasn't actually talking about preparation by/of the candidate, but the people selecting someone based on the fall selection process doesn't lead to a candidate most likely to win.

See my analysis above. No sense repeating it. And I'd point out, as a starting point, that I have not heard a single major analyst who believes it does.
Again, Dave, you're saying that you don't believe that choosing a candidate the same way you choose a President in the fall will help.

I'm asking you for evidence of this.

You haven't provided any.

And saying that no major analyst agrees with me is a cop out.

Besides, the way to do something right is to do the opposite of what the major analysts say.

After all, last summer, no major analyst would have told you that we'd have an Obama versus McCain election.