Will the current primary/caucus system survive?

I don’t want to have a debate about the actual outcome of this year’s primary/caucus system. There’s plenty of other threads about that. But how will this year’s election affect the system itself?

I think everyone would agree that there’s been a major increase in tension surrounding the scheduling of the primaries and caucuses this election cycle. Many states are trying to push their way to a more favored position. But obviously not everyone can be up at the front. Some states are inevitably going to feel they got stuck with a bad position.

None of the candidates are complaining because they’re running through the middle of it all. They’re all dependant on the current system so they can’t afford to question it right now. But in a few months we’ll be on the other side of all of this. Two people will think the system worked great and all the others will think it failed.

So will our current system of letting each state make its own decisions about its primaries and caucuses survive? Or will there be a call for a central (and inevitably federal) authority to step in and impose some control? Or will the states realize the competition between themselves is self-defeating and reach some voluntary agreement? Or will things just quiet down until next time when we’ll see primaries for the 2012 election being held a year before the election?

No, the system will not survive forever, although it may stagger through a few more election cycles. At some point, we’ll either leap-frog to an impossibly early start date (Who’s up for an Iowa caucus in March 2011?), or 45 states will pile their primary onto the same Super Tuesday, which will prevent one candidate from winning a majority of delegates.

At either of these points, I predict, the parties will take control of their own nominating process and bypass the state legislatures. (The states would never agree on a fix, and the federal government has no power to mandate one.) The technology is there for the parties to organize their own voting–parties in other countries manage it with no trouble, and the Reform Party in the United States even gave it a go in 2000. Then all of this nonsense will be behind us.

Mind you, there will still be debate as each party decides how to organize its voting and which states should vote in which order. But the parties will be able to impose their own nationwide plans, with (one hopes) more sanity than the current hodge-podge.

I think that immediately after the primary season concludes (perhaps on February 6) everyone will immediately develop collective amnesia for three and a half years, and when the issue reappears, it will be too late to do anything about it.

Or perhaps, it could be solved as quickly and effectively as we reorganized the electoral college after the 2000 hanging chad disaster.

I think it’s likely the system, in general, will survive. The people with the power to change it don’t have the incentive to.

I think there is something to be said for primaries in smaller states to start with. It allows candidates with lesser financial backing to get exposure and media coverage (Huckabee anyone?). I think the ideal system would be to have a group of 4 states have early primaries, followed by 4 more a few weeks later, then a national primary day. They 8 “early” states would be rotated, with two from each geographic region (West, Midwest, NE, South). This way less well-heeled candidates could compete on friendly ground with the hopes that a few wins could propel them to national attention.

Will it every happen - not likely.

It’ll change right after we get a NCAA Football tournament instead of the Bowl system.

Think of the possibilities if we just merge the two!

I hope the current mess does not survive after this year.

They need a rotating system. There is no reason why Iowa and New Hampshire residents should get disproportionate say-so year after year. There is, on the other hand, some rationale for letting candidates test the voter-waters in small states and/or a few states at a time.

They should either

• draw states from a hat, random selection, or

• do a weighted random draw in which the less populous states are more likely to get picked first, or

• break the states into multiple tiers (tiny states, mid-sized states, huge states) and randomly select within each tier, with the small-state tiers going first.
The current system has been stupid for my lifetime. The “Super Tuesday” southern & midwestern states that made the change a decade or more ago were the first mild “screw this” discontents; the current flock of “everyone wants to go first” are the final straw. I understand why the DNC and RNC don’t appreciate the competitive push to the front of the line, but c’mon. Fix the problem. Make it fair.

I think two-party politics is a hot mess anyway.

But yeah, this system, in some variation, will be around for a long time to come.