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Primary schedule is “game of political bumper cars”

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

In April, we told you that NYC Mayor (and possible presidential candidate) Michael Bloomberg called for a presidential primary election calendar determined by the federal government. The problem, he said, was that the competition between states to be first was hurting the country as a whole.

“We should come up with a policy from a federal point of view and not let each state do it,” he said. “Because there’s no coordination and nobody’s focusing on what’s good for the public and good for the country in national elections; they’re only focusing on what’s good for the state.”

Recently, the Detroit News called the primary tango a “game of political bumper cars.” Here is the latest in this drama from today’s Boston Globe:

Michigan appears poised to crash the party of early states seeking to influence the 2008 presidential nominating process, leapfrogging the other interlopers, Florida and South Carolina, and further scrambling the electoral calendar.

If leaders of Michigan’s political parties reach agreement, as early as tomorrow, on joint Jan. 15 primaries, New Hampshire and Iowa, the traditional leadoff states, would be forced to set earlier contests to preserve their coveted status.

The article goes on to reiterate what Mayor Bloomberg was talking about in April:

The front-loaded schedule, most political analysts agree, makes it even more important for candidates to raise large sums of money, tends to help established front-runners, and makes it much more difficult for a lesser-known candidate to break out from the pack.

Harvard professor Thomas Patterson’s fix to this mess is to shorten the primary calendar, by starting it in mid-April “with a string of five state contentests spaced a week or two apart, followed by a month-long interval that would lead to a single day – Ultimate Tuesday – on which all forty-five remaining states would ballot.” The Washington Post reported on August 17th that a regional primary system – one that Patterson discusses in his book The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty – is being advocated in congress by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Text from the Washington Post article is after the jump.

[The senators] have introduced legislation that would create a system of regional voting that would take place on the first Tuesdays in March, April, May and June. The nation’s states would be divided into four regions, and membership in those regions would rotate every four years.

“Primaries were not intended to be an arms race,” Klobuchar said in a statement announcing the legislation. “We seek to give order to this chaotic, messy, and unrepresentative process. This schedule gives power and influence back to the voters in every state.”

Under the legislation, which is based on a recommendation first made by the National Association of Secretaries of State in 2000, New Hampshire and Iowa would remain at the front of the process. But other states would no longer have the option to move their voting unilaterally.

The advocates of the legislation say it would ensure that lesser-known candidates have the time to make their case to the voters — something they argue is not possible when voting is compressed to just a few days in January or February.

They argue it would also inject diversity into a system that is currently dominated by two small, homogeneous states. The regional primary idea was endorsed in September of 2005 by an election reform commission headed by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state James Baker III.

But the proposal has not been embraced by the parties in past years, in part because it strips the state and national parties of control over their own process. In their report, Carter and Baker agree that the process is best left to the states.

But, they add, “If political parties do not make these changes by 2008, Congress should legislate the change.”

Stay tuned to Why Tuesday? for developments.

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