Simple solution to primary rush: Schedule them based on turnout

December 11, 2007|By Scott R. Spencer

WILMINGTON, Del. -- Running for president has always been described in terms of a race. But the race to be nominated for the presidency in 2008 has become a deeply flawed system as the states have engaged in a stampede to schedule the earliest primary. This favors candidates with deep pockets who will rely more on media campaigns instead of campaign stops in each primary state.

Instead of a mad dash, the presidential primaries should be a well-paced, cross-country race to give voters, coast to coast, plenty of time to see how the candidates run in each state. However, the rush by more than 30 states to have the earliest primary has created a race whose finish line has constantly been moved. This compression of the primary schedule threatens to end the race before most Americans have had a chance to see it in their state.

Electing a president is the most important decision voters have in setting the course of America's future. There was a time when the schedule of presidential primaries from February to June reflected this importance.

Unfortunately, the primary season for the 2008 election has become compressed into a jet-plane sprint among the tarmacs of Iowa and New Hampshire during the holiday season to the 20-plus states that plan a primary Feb. 5 - "Tsunami Tuesday." Without the ability to use teleportation, candidates will need to rely on expensive television ads to "meet" the voters.

The solution to this mad rush to be the earliest primary state is to implement a rotating regional primary system in 2012 based on voter turnout in the 2008 general election. To maintain the political tradition of starting presidential campaigns in rural and small-town America, Iowa and New Hampshire should continue to have the earliest presidential primary dates. The schedule of the 2012 primaries would have the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary lead off in January and February, respectively. One regional primary per month in March, April, May and June would be held in states grouped by four time zone regions. (Alaska and Hawaii would be grouped with states in the Pacific Time Zone.) The order of the monthly regional primaries would be determined by the highest voter turnout for each region next November.

The top state in voter turnout for each region would earn the distinction of voting the first Tuesday of its primary month, followed by the rest of the states in that region on the third Tuesday of their primary month.

This schedule would encourage greater voter turnout by giving the earliest primary dates to the regions with the best voter turnout, and would reward the top state in each region with its own primary day. It would also help keep the presidential primary season interesting right up to the national conventions in the summer.

Grouping each regional primary largely within one time zone would greatly reduce travel fatigue for presidential candidates, campaign workers and reporters who now face a grueling, nonstop travel challenge. This new plan should result in better decision-making by voters. One hopes the Republican and Democratic parties will agree to work together to persuade the states to adopt this system.

And never fear, traditionalists: This plan would preserve the practice of letting Iowa and New Hampshire give us the first measure of presidential timber - but without the fear of again being washed away by the rush, crush and confusion of other states vying for attention in an ever-earlier primary.

Scott R. Spencer is a former congressional intern on transportation and defense issues. His e-mail is

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