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A few states shouldn’t decide presidency

11/14/2007 9:26 am 21 comments

The nation’s two political parties have done a pretty good job over the years of keeping voters in line by deciding the order in which states will vote on their presidential candidates.

But that respect for tradition — Iowa and New Hampshire have always been first in line — has gone out the window, and the Republican and Democratic national committees have struggled to keep order.

Folks, this cat is out of the bag, and it’s never going to be the same again. And frankly, it shouldn’t.

I’ve listened to many of the pundits this election season remark that if Sen. John McCain doesn’t win New Hampshire, his candidacy is toast. Former Sen. John Edwards has put a lot of the emphasis on Iowa, and the prognosticators say that if he doesn’t bag the state, he might as well hang ‘em up. Michelle Obama has said on the campaign trail in Iowa that if her husband doesn’t win that state, the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama is also toast.

But former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is attempting to defy conventional wisdom by ignoring the early states and focusing on delegate-rich states such as New York and California.

As a result, we’ve seen many states jockey for position by moving up their primaries. Michigan, Florida and others have seen their state officials change the law to force their primaries to the top of the election calendar so that they might have a greater say in who is president.

These moves have led both parties to threaten to strip the rogue states of delegates to the national conventions.

While these changes have created a huge mess for the campaigns — they are not sure exactly when the voting will take place — I must admit that I’m on the side of the states. It is grossly unfair for the first four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — to pretty much decide the presidency. But in all honesty, it boils down to the first two.

If a candidate doesn’t do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, the media attention turns away from them, and then the political dollars dry up, and the packing begins.

Yet this is no way to choose a president. Fine, I know all about that tradition crap, but honestly, no one should have such a stranglehold on the process. Of course, the hard part is coming up with a plan to which everyone will agree.

Instead of having one primary or caucus one week and another the next, why can’t five states vote each week during January? That means by the end of the month, we will have nearly half of the states make their choice for president, and we can have a much better idea what the will of the American people is. That will no doubt cause the campaigns to raise more money to run a national campaign, but hey, you’ve got to have a trade-off.

The folks in New Hampshire won’t be happy because their constitution calls for them to be the first state in the nation to hold a presidential primary. I’m still trying to figure out how in the world one state believes it can usurp every other state and the political parties go along with this nonsense.

Iowa and New Hampshire residents want to keep saying it’s about tradition. I think it’s about money. The TV stations, newspapers, hotels, restaurants, sign companies and other businesses make a ton of dough off these candidates, and they don’t want that cash cow to feed others.

Unless the political parties come up with a solution that incorporates more states, and get away from this exclusivity, the other states will get even more aggressive, and we will potentially have every state trying to hold its primary the first week of January.

Americans want fairness, and there is nothing fair about less than 10 percent of the states in America choosing the next president for the rest of us.

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  • Pappy Randy

    What you say is true … However. In Washington state, and maybe elsewhere, the Rebublican and Democratic parties have taken the sate to court and the highest court in the land has ruled that, as private organiztions, they can make what ever rules they want. In our case, it was to allow only registered party members to vote in the party primaries. Essentially, this allows the party to make its choice for a office candidate without interference from outsiders. Extrapolate from that and you have the ability of the party to mandate the date of their primary.

    So, the American system of representation can no longer be known as a democracy or representative democracy but rather a two party system where the electorate has no power to make decisions that count. None of this can or even begin to change until an electable third-party candidate comes to the forefront with the financial backing to make a legitimate run at the Presidency.

    Of course, then it becomes a three-party system and not much else changes.

    If Randy ran the world – the only legal entities would be living, breathing human beings, only legal entities could donate to political campaigns, lawyers fees would cap at ten times the award to a single litigant (the end of “for profit” class-action lawsuits) and corporate officers and boards of directors would be held personally responsible for the actions of their company.

    None of that will ever see the light of day.

  • nic

    Spider, Spider, Spider…
    Mr. Martin pushes pens, not envelopes!

    This is a little underwhelming, though, I agree. Doesn’t take much to highlight one of the MANY faults in our system of electing Presidents…we could also talk about needed reforms in campaign laws, or the fact that our two-party system is only one party removed from a fascist system (and one might argue that our two parties are eerily similar – similar enough that the Republicans are fielding candidates in both parties this time around – see H.R. Clinton!)

    Mr. Martin, what about highlighting the issue of ballot-tampering? Thousands of blacks have had their votes thrown out in both of the last two Presidential elections…why? are we going to let it happen again next year? Of course we are, unless we SPEAK UP ABOUT IT NOW!

  • Matthew

    Your piece suggests that a few states elect the president. That is not really the case. They select the two nominees for president, then everyone votes on the same tuesday in november to elect the president. I agree that the primaries could be more equitable, but I’m not sure this is a major issue. What is more interesting to me is why we have a sysytem where a president can win the popular vote, but lose the election. Thats worth talking about!

  • Hugh B. Brown

    I agree with nic in that major election reform is in order (don’t even get me started on the Electorate College,) but sticking to the topic…

    The elephant in the room is the issue of race in regards to the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary (and, for the record, this is the opinion of a moderate white man.) The population of both states are primarily white and rural, which may be the desired target audience in the marketing of pickup trucks, but is hardly a snapshot of the average American. While South Carolina exists as the traditional third and more racially-diverse contest, campaigns damaged by poor showings in the first two polls enter that race at a serious disadvantage.

    Not one to curse the darkness without lighting a candle, I submit the following suggestion: hold four initial and simultaneous primaries in different regions of the country. Iowa and New Hampshire could keep their spots, but select two other, small-to-middle size states that better reflect 21st century America (for example, New Mexico or Nevada in the West, and Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama or Louisiana in the South.) These would more than likely produce multiple “winners” in each parties, thus allowing the debate to carry on to at least “Super Tuesday” and beyond.

  • Sally

    Mr. Martin is absolutely correct. A handful of states should not decide who will be in the White House for the rest of us. It’s absurd to think that all of America should not have a voice in the primaries. I know that those projected to win in Iowa and New Hapshire may not be those that the rest of want to see lead our country.

    I’m very proud to be an American, I have a voice and it deserves to be heard!

  • Robert Roth

    The late Douglas Adams, in jest, hit the head on the nail: “It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

    The struggle for power between the monster that the two party system has become is slowly becoming a farce. Neither has any interest in anything but self-preservation and emplacing themselves in positions of power and influence.

    Why, may I ask, would either party give up a system that has positioned them in power? Whoever wins the primaries will only look favorably on the system and not speak out or alter the system. As delightful as your suggestions of a month-long primary blitzkrieg sounds, I can’t fathom it ever coming to fruition. Perhaps when people say “enough is enough” and abandon the two-party system and start voting, well, anything else.

  • Joe

    Hey Roland, why dont we get rid of the electoral college, it means nothing these days and should be abandoned

  • Charlotte

    Mr. Martin — I wholeheartedly agree. So much so that this may be the first time I’ve ever been compelled enough by any article, yours or any other, to comment. After the last Presidential ‘circus’ in Iowa, I found myself thinking that Americans are just a bunch of lemmings. What do the people in Iowa know about what’s important to me? And the media took what they thought and ran with it and the rest of the country fell right in line. Arrggh.

    My reason for writing/responding to your post is this: what can I do about it? What action can I take to attempt to help create change? Ideas?

  • Liz

    Hi, Mr. Martin. Yes, the first few primary/caucus states basically decide which candidate wins the nomination of the major parties. I wish you would use your public forum as an opportunity to educate citizens that this is only true because enough people believe it is true. All delegate votes are worth the same weight at the convention, and there’s no reason that delegates from states with later primaries can’t vote for any candidate they (and their constituents) choose. You said yourself in your commentary: “If a candidate doesn’t do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, the media attention turns away from them, and then the political dollars dry up, and the packing begins.” This does not have to be the case. If the media didn’t present the nomination as a foregone conclusion based on a win or loss in Iowa or New Hampshire, the voters in subsequent primaries would not feel the need to vote for the candidate already deemed the nominee by Iowans.
    I hope that, as primary season begins, you will use your status as a member of the national media to direct attention to candidates who underperformed in early states so the voices of voters in later states can still be heard. It’s up to the media and the citizens to make this contest fair. Thanks for your time.

  • Al Gerheim

    Take this simple test. How many political ads do you see during the primary season, and for the general election? If you aren’t in an early primary state, or a “swing state” during the general election, you don’t see any. This tells you how important your vote really is. Simple economics: A quantity is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. If the office-seekers aren’t willing to spend money (in advertising) for your vote, it isn’t worth anything.

    Besides the primary process, the general election itself is designed to allow the office-seekers to target a limited number of voters. This is accomplished by way of the Electoral College system. If you get into the mathematics of the process (it’s called a quantization effect), states which are solidly Democratic or Republican just don’t count. Only the “swing states” merit campaign money and appearances.

    This isn’t a big state/small state or even Democrat/Republican conflict. In the general election, the more homogeneous states (OH, MI, NY) hold all the power.

  • Charles Pray

    The American electoral process is out of hand and democracy itself may well be at stake. The political process is pretty much a money game anyways and while this won’t change it … I think we, as a country, need to establish a system that may provide a greater chance that a real “peoples’ choice” candidate to break out of the pack every once in awhile.

    States are rushing to get to the beginning of the process, not to improve the process but to cash in on the process and to be perceived as a player in a process that has become a billion dollar game that is surely excluding most of America, both as participants, let alone as candidates. This robs America of real choices. And, is slowly nailing the coffin of the belief; “anyone is able to become President.”

    Money has always been at the root of getting the message out and in the selection process he/she with the dough, most times often than not, have a significant edge over their opponent(s). But if we, as a nation, and as political parties, truly believe in a real democratic process we need to allow the entire country to participate in the selection process. Thus, I propose the following primary/caucus selection process, which protects some traditional States’ roles, but not all, and none forever.

    A Presidential Selection Process to initiate in February of an election year with the ten smallest States in population, holding a process of their choice, caucus or a primary, with New Hampshire* holding their selection within the first full week of that month, and the remaining nine States selection process to be held in the remaining weeks of the month of February starting in the second full week of February through the end of the month, at their choice.

    States holding the eleventh to twentieth in population will hold a selection process of their choice, caucus or a primary, starting in or on the first of March concluded by no later than the end of the month.

    States holding the twenty-first to thirtieth in population will hold a selection process of their choice, caucus or a primary, starting in or on the first of April, concluded by no later than the end of the month.

    States holding the thirty-first to fortieth in population will hold a selection process of their choice, caucus or a primary, starting in or on the first of May, concluded by no later than the end of the month.

    States holding the forty-first to the fiftieth in population will hold a selection process of their choice, caucus or a primary, starting in or on the first of June, concluded by no later than the end of the month.

    I recognized this slips Iowa to the third set of selections versa their current lead in the national process, but the intent here is in a selection process that allows an initial stage tilted towards grass root organization and low financial requirement and the greater presentation of ideas and personalities of those seeking a grander national stage, building a demand of acceptance and of financial support as Candidates move up the political process to the more populated areas representing a building crescendo of national acceptance.

    This process would alter slightly as States gain or loss population, the same as the reapportionment of Seats in the U.S. Congress is now reflected of population shifts. U.S. Territories could either be included in the ten smallest or be allowed to opt, within the above process based upon near-by States, i.e., Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands may select the Florida primary, or New York.

    Under this process the States would fall these Stages:

    1st: New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, (District of Columbia, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, & American Samoa).

    2nd: Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Maine.

    3rd: Minnesota, Colorado, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, (Puerto Rico), Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa

    4th: New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts, Washington, Indiana, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Wisconsin.

    5th: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina.

    This process would reflect the following percentage of the electoral population participating by month: February, 3.17%, March, 7.2%, April, 14.08%, May, 23.32%, and June, 53.48%. This reflects a near doubling percentage of participants each month allowing a small risk to candidates either off-set by regional political advantages or disadvantages, and will allow a greater participation in low cost media markets based upon the usually higher costs in major populated States. This building scale, of more than half of the selection process still opened to a candidate going into the final month means candidates may not necessarily be knocked out before a message can be delivered, because, say a California, representing nearly a quarter of selection process knocks out a candidate before a message is even presented. I believe California is an important part of the process and their role in the selection process is significant to the winning process, but in the last two elections the smallest of States could have decided a nation outcome in the fall elections.

    I recognize this is not a perfect solution since there is none. Some smaller States rely on neighboring large States with expensive markets, but I believe they are still off-set by allowing a greater grassroots organizing.

    * If/when New Hampshire moves up in population into the next set of States they will lose their status of “First in the Nation” primary.

    Charles Pray holds a degree in Politcial Science, was a Maine State Senator from 1975 to 1992, holding a leadership position for fourteen of his eighteen years as a Senator, served in the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 2001, and currently serve in Governor Baldacci’s Administration in Maine

  • Brian Barrier

    As an aside, I don’t know that many people know about this (and I didn’t see anything about it in the discussion so far – correct me if I am wrong):

    Iowa is seen as an important state in part because of the way the districts are drawn. They are drawn strictly by census data and those drawing them are not legislators but outside entities. It is, to my knowledge, the only state in the U.S. to do this. All other states end up with demi-jerrymandered districts (at best) and all sorts of imbalances because they rely on legislators to draw the lines. It ends up being a partisan activity no matter who is in control of the state’s legislative body at the time. Yes, the line-drawing activities of any state are observed by Federal officials but there are plenty of ways to cut things close to the lines racially, ethnically and politically in favor of one’s own party while maintaining their “legality.”

    I am not Iowan nor do I necessarily disagree with Mr. Martin. Just wanted to give another facet of the situation for consideration.

  • Daniel

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article t decide presidency, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.


    The only reason Iowa and New Hampshire is so important is because they are the faces and votes of white Americans. This is the measuring stick of how and what White America wants, and what white american wants, white american gets.

    I for one thinks the “electoral college” is flawed. This is just a way of keeping the two political partys in control, and controlling who THEY want as the nominee. I also believe it is a way of keeping AA out of leading roles in the two partys.

    If AA are not able to bargain with their voting strength BEFORE the 2008 election in getting Obama as president OR, VICE PRESIDENT. We need to go INDEPENDENT! Yes, it is a big chance of getting a INDEPENDENT IN, but, it is a sure fire way to gain our power back! What’s the difference in the two partys when it comes to AA? NONE! Both party takes us for granted, and both makes false promises. So, nothing gained and nothing earned from neither. So, we make a stand that guarantees us something for our votes, by bargaining with our power!


  • dan hop

    Debbie you are so out of touch with reality it is not even funny. Iowa and New Hampshire are important because they are FIRST. Trends are set. The remainder of the country sees what is going on in theses states and it makes them take notice. Black racist rhetoric isn’t effective it is counter-productive.

  • dan hop

    Oh, Debbie, I forgot one thing. The electoral does NOT decide the nominee. Get your facts straight before you rant.

  • Al

    There’s alot of men out there trying to be fathers and tried to be fathers. Women often put men in a position of choice. Meaning, taking care of your kids means taking care of her also. We all know this is not how it works. Alot of men find it easier to walk away than to keep fighting over and over. I have kids, some live with me and some are being kept from me. I do what I can when allowed.

  • LindaZ

    Boy do I agree with this article! I would like to see the Electoral voting eliminated and have one Primary Election Day for each state. The two candidates with the most votes in his/her party will be the Presidential Candidates in the November Election. Why do they need years to ridicule each other and make themselves look foolish while asking for money to support that endeavor? Game On Season should begin 6 months prior to the Primary election. Let the people decide, not just a few states, who the President will be.

  • SharonP

    In Indiana, our primary is not until May and many will say “who cares” because by then it will be clear who will get the nomination from each party. I believe that the primary to decide who runs for President should be held by all states on the same day.
    All of these polls our media is telling us about are not scientific and they just lead voters astray. Who are they polling? Do they get a nice mix of people to ask or are they simply asking just one particular group.
    As far as the Electoral College during the November election is concerned, I believe it should be abolished and the person with the most votes should be president. If another country had this type of voting system, the US would be up in arms over the process.

  • Daniel

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article A few states shouldn’t decide presidency, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  • wishperwinds

    American citizens have long let looks and status make our decisions on many important issues. We have lived in a country that we all now see that we as citizens are left behind. Yet, we continue to be divided over a person’s skin that should not make a difference. If a man or woman is qualified to become whatever she or he wants….the bottom line is let them move in that directions. Those who do not get out and vote have cause themselves a right that has been what many have died for. In states where many Presidential decisions are made who will become the next President have indeed made a mark because its people get out and vote for what they want as citizens. For to long many whites have continue to be and show racism when blacks step’s into the light and begun to shine. They begun to turn on their racial mode and start what is known as a “deep south” kind of hate that date’s back the civil rights era. The changes that are now being made will affect America in so many ways that if our heart and mind don’t change on and of our on free will; then it will be changed for us. Americans citizens can become whatever they want to be in life. No matter who or how the “race card” is played.

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