Vox Populi
A Letter to the Editor

Could the Parties Institute a National Presidential Preference Primary?
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

by Dominick Schirripa

I have just read (admittedly somewhat belatedly), the 'Vox Populi' submissions and responses re: a National Primary. My question is: why does Mr. Berg-Andersson seem to believe that the only way for such a Primary to occur would be by Constitutional Amendment? It would seem that he has overlooked (or simply failed to discuss) why the Parties themselves could not institute such a primary.

At present the rules and procedures for selecting delegates to the National Conventions, especially in the Democratic Party, are controlled by the National Committees. Thus, just as DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe "decreed" that no primary directly affecting delegate selection could be held before Iowa and New Hampshire and that the primaries, as a result, would be "front-loaded," a Party Chair (or the Party's National Committee) could "strongly encourage" (used in the same sort of coercive sense that Congress "encouraged" states to lower their speed limits by threatening to withhold payouts from the Highway Trust Fund) all state Party branches to set their primaries/caucuses on the same day.

While I don't know, or necessarily believe, that either Party would be able or willing to do such a thing, I am curious as to Mr. Berg-Andersson's thoughts on the possibility/feasibility of change under this scenario. Given that the Democrats seem to now think that their front-loaded primaries may not have been as beneficial as originally hoped/intended, will they- perhaps- consider a National Primary for 2008?

And, as a related question, what about any thoughts/proposals on the Parties' structuring their Primary season less state-by-state and more "region-by-region" with a series of, say, 6 "Super Tuesday"-like dates wherein multiple states or whole regions of the country can vote in Primaries simultaneously?

Dominick Schirripa

New York, NY

Mr. Berg-Andersson responds to Mr. Schirripa:

The reason I focused on a Constitutional Amendment as a principal way to effect a National Primary was- besides my own feeling that this would, in fact, be the best way to even get such a National Primary (on which more will be written later in this response)- that the very first 'vox Populi' on this issue (that of Jeffrey Wetmore, dated 21 November 2003) was suggesting that Congress pass a law mandating a National Primary and I felt I had to explain to the writer why Congress did not currently have the constitutional authority to adopt such a statute. The next 'vox Populi' on the subject (that of Warren Schiff, dated 28 November 2003) followed naturally from my response to Mr. Wetmore and this, in turn, was followed by my even proposing my own version of just such a National Primary Constitutional Amendment (in a Commentary of mine dated 17 January 2004).

In none of these writings (which you have indicated you have read) was any reference made to any Party-originating methodology of effecting such a National Primary; indeed, the final 'vox Populi', prior to your own, on the subject of a National Primary (that of James Dayton, dated 19 January 2004) indicated a concern on the part of the writer that I had mentioned Political Parties in my Constitutional Amendment proposal in the first place! These discussions that can be accessed via the links already provided herein, thus, concentrated on a non-Party origination for a National Primary.

However, as you yourself correctly point out, the Parties could organize a National Primary (or, at the very least- again, as you yourself have opined- a series of Regional Primaries) for themselves in very much the manner in which you suggest. I just don't honestly think that a National Primary (or even Regional Primaries) largely pushed by the Major Parties themselves is ever going to happen. Here's why:

Assuming that your observation that the leadership of the Democrats in particular are not all that happy with the Primary schedule utilized in 2004 is- indeed- correct, it could also be said that this same leadership was not all that happy with the Primary schedule used back in 2000 (as I am sure Party leaders were not necessarily all that happy with the Primary schedule in at least some of the Presidential Election years previous to that; and, at least in some of these years, the same could also be said of the Republicans [note particularly the GOP's failed attempt, back in 2000, to entice States to not "front-load" their Primaries and Caucuses by offering them more "bonus" Republican National Convention delegates the later the State held its principal delegate selection event; note, too, that the Republicans decided not to offer said "bonus" delegates in 2004!]). Notice that, given the flaws in the Primary set-up four years before, the Party hierarchies did not at all push to change the overall system (a series of week-by-week Primaries and first-tier Caucuses led off, as usual, by Iowa's Caucuses followed by New Hampshire's Primary eight days later) in favor of either an "all-up" National Primary or even a series of Regional Primaries; rather, the Primary and Caucus schedule was merely "tweaked", the process as a whole remaining more or less "as is".

The only really significant change effected in the Primary schedule this year was that caused by the District of Columbia Democrats deciding to hold an Advisory Primary (merely advisory since Democratic Party rules currently prevent any jurisdiction represented at a Democratic National Convention to hold an actual delegate selection event before Iowa and New Hampshire have already held theirs) on the Tuesday before the Iowa Caucuses (that is, two weeks to the day before New Hampshire's Primary) and please further note that the national leadership of the Democratic Party was not at all happy about this (even to the point of openly discouraging the major contenders for the Presidential Nomination from participating [in the end, the only major contender on the ballot in DC was to be Howard Dean]). This suggests to me that at least one Major Party does not (and, in truth, I believe both Major Parties do not) want to do away with the current "Iowa Caucus- New Hampshire Primary- everyone else's Primary/Caucus then falls in line during the ensuing weeks as best they can" system we currently utilize.

My observation is that the Major Parties benefit from, first, so-called "retail politics" in Iowa and New Hampshire (primarily because the voters in these two States then significantly reduce the field of presidential contenders going on into subsequent Primaries and Caucuses [which also suggests to me that, despite any protestations to the contrary, the two Major Parties don't really much care about the choices which might have been made by their respective Parties' faithful in the other 48 States and D.C.: that they are, as institutions, both far more concerned with having a Presidential Nominee-presumptive declared as quickly as possible (later-voting States be damned!)- after all, in Politics, Money talks!]) and, secondly, by having coverage of the remaining Primaries and Caucuses gain free media attention for whatever contenders might remain after Iowa and New Hampshire and then- the sooner, the better- the Nominee-presumptive him/herself (Money saved also talks!!). As a result, there is little- if any- incentive for either Major Party to work toward something that would do away with these- what they themselves see as- benefits.

As for Regional Primaries (say, dividing up the United States of America into, say, six to eight Regions and then the States in each Region hold their Primaries or first-tier Caucuses on the same day over a period of weeks equal to the number of Regions), the problems with this proposal are legion (though, to be fair, a National Primary [that is, everyone voting on the same day] would pose at least some of these same problems as well). I'll only suggest a few of these potential pitfalls for purposes of this response:

First of all, so long as Iowa still holds a First-in-the-Nation Caucus and New Hampshire still gets to hold a First-in-the-Nation Primary, Regional Primaries don't make all that much sense (for it really doesn't much matter if you, for example, rotate which Region gets to vote first during a particular Presidential Election year's Primary/Caucus "season" if at least half of the field of contenders for a Party's open Presidential Nomination [that is, one not involving a White House incumbent] have already been eliminated in Iowa and/or New Hampshire before voters in the first set of States even get to vote).

Second, whatever changes one might make in the Primary system (whether a Regional or National Presidential Nominating Primary) are going to have concomitant effects on State and local Primaries to be held in the same year. Elections cost money and States who have, primarily for that reason, opted to combine their State and local Primaries with a Presidential Primary on the same date will, presumably, have to move their State and local Primaries around to accommodate the date a given State would have to participate in either a Regional or National Primary.

Finally, there is the simple fact that there are two Major Parties. One Party is not all that likely to go over to a National Primary- or even a Regional Primary system- on their own if the other Party does not also come along (and instead, therefore, retains their use of the present week-after-week-after-week Primary/Caucus system).

Thus, I believe that the best- if not only- way of effecting a National Presidential Nominating Primary (or, if one prefers, a Regional Primary system) is through codified law rather than waiting upon the whims of one or both Major Parties and- since, again, Congress does not, at this time, have the same power and authority, under the U.S. Constitution, to oversee and regulate the nomination of our Nation's highest elected Executive officers that all the State legislatures happen to right now have over the process through which their own elected Executive offices are nominated- such codified law could only be legally adopted were a Constitutional Amendment giving Congress such power and authority to be sent out to the States by at least a 2/3 vote in each house of Congress and thereafter ratified by at least 3/4 of the States. And I'll here repeat what I wrote in response to both Mr. Wetmore and Mr. Schiff:

"Ain't happ'nin!"

I suppose that, were a significant majority of the American People- certainly the rank and file in both Major Parties, along with, perhaps, Independents and Third Party partisans- to become, for some reason or other that I myself can right now neither fathom nor foresee, rather frustrated and upset with the current way we nominate candidates for President and Vice-President, the Major Parties might very well eventually be forced to respond to this and we then might begin to see a move toward either a National Primary or a Regional Primary system. For the time being, however, I don't think the average American voter really cares all that much about any of this, as it is- to said voter- all rather arcane "Inside Baseball": he/she simply goes to the voting booth on, say, Presidential Primary day in his/her State and pulls a lever, pushes a button, punches a card or marks an 'X' next to the name of the presidential contender of his/her choice without any real idea as to just how his/her vote might then translate into National Convention delegates pledged to his/her candidate (despite the best efforts of we here at 'The Green Papers' to explain it all! [;-)]); the following Summer, he/she may- or, for that matter, may not!- watch at least some of the television coverage of either or both of the Major Parties' National Conventions and, in any event, pretty much merely accepts these Conventions as a "given", not all that much questioning either their function or their value as Political Process. And, unless and until that day comes when it might be otherwise, the system we have in place right now for nominating candidates for President and Vice-President will remain basically "as is" for the foreseeable future.

Americans, whether they realize it or not, do retain the ultimate Power to change their political process (including the methodology of national nominations) should they, indeed, someday wish to do so-- but, first, they must wish to do so! I don't see any evidence that, at least now in the middle of the calendar year 2004, such a wish is actually out there.


Vox Populi Home