- Brian Fishbach
Now Is the Time to Change the Early Presidential Primaries (for 2020)
Iowa? New Hampshire? Every four years, our next President panders to these tiny states. And that needs to change.
Five years ago, the only mention of the year 2016 was in reference to the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and a distant United States Presidential Election.
Granted, between then and now, there would be one more Summer Olympic Games (London), and one more Presidential Election (Obama vs. Romney).
And now, with three years and eleven months until the roaring 2020s, it is time to reimagine the process of early presidential primaries and caucuses in the United States.
Both sides of the generalized American political spectrum have plenty to dislike about the early primary system: the left can lament that the current system gave us George W. Bush, and the right can complain that the system gave us eight years of President Obama. Everyone should listen up.
For decades, the first primary in an election year has been in Iowa. And it is not just any primary, it is a caucus—where gaggles of fickle meandering voters jockey from one corner of of a church mess hall to the other, until their precinct declares a candidate a winner. In recent years, Obama, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum were victorious.
Up next, New Hampshire is the site of the second primary election. In 2012, Mitt Romney edged out Ron Paul. In 2008, Hillary Clinton famously “found [her] voice” and avenged her third place Iowa finish with a first place in The Granite State.
The total populations of Iowa and New Hampshire make up only 1.3% of the entire United States. Those 1.3% hog all of the television advertisements, town hall events, and international media for months leading up to their respective primaries. Those 1.3% are the target for the hundreds of millions of campaign donations from around the country. And even if half of the people in each state were eligible to vote and do so, that would only be .65% of the country making a big decision for the rest of us. That .65% is what dictates how the nation should feel about the candidates for two to four weeks—when Super Tuesday takes place.
Super Tuesday is arguably the end of the early primaries for U.S. Presidential elections. In the last open election in 2008, republicans and democrats each had primaries in over twenty states on that day (there was a Super Tuesday II a month later, but it only had 4 states.)
The point is that by March of an election year—eight months before the general election day in November—each party’s candidates are winnowed down to one or two, with roughly half the country still not casting any vote on the matter.
Only a few wonks understand this. Only a few diligent citizens register to vote. And fewer of them are actually casting a vote.
That is a problem. That needs to change. And here is an idea:
You divide the states into five population tiers, per the 2010 census:
Division 1: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, and Michigan.
Division 2: New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Arizona, Massachusetts, Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, and Wisconsin.
Division 3: Minnesota, Colorado, South carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, and Iowa.
Division 4: Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, and Hawaii.
Division 5: New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, DC, Vermont, and Wyoming.
Americans love divisions. It reminds them of the National Football League and NCAA sports.
Next, you have ten primary elections between March and July—two per month, five states per day.
But who gets to be on each primary election? By December 31, each state needs to submit voter registration totals to the Federal Elections Commission. The states are then ranked in their divisions from greatest to least percentage of eligible voters registered to vote.
The states that can get the largest percentage of voter registration will get to be on the first presidential primary election of the season in March. For example, based on the 2012 voter turnout, this is what the first primary election would look like in 2016: Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, and New Hampshire. Sorry, Iowa.
It is a system that rewards the states that register the most voters with the most attention, and the most candidates on the ballot. And the schedule will be made just before kickoff of the Super Bowl in early February—for maximum viewer exposure.
And that brings us back to what we can learn from the Olympics. The finalists for each Olympic games are selected by a committee. No, we are not advocating for a slating committee to choose the President. When the committee convenes about seven years before when the games are to take place, the committee casts an initial vote. The city with the lowest vote total drops off. And so on until a winner is selected.
This would work in the primary election system. It’s a “try not to get last place” system. But on the tenth primary in July, if there are still a ton of candidates left, the winner wins the party’s nomination.
The last thing that should change is the day when these ten primary elections will be held. Two per month, for five months. Each one on a Friday AND Saturday. Nobody gets anything done on Fridays anyways. This will maximize turnout.
The system of early primaries in the U.S. Presidential elections need to change. And the time to change them is now. Time is running out to change them for 2020.
America, we can do better. Even the Olympics are already making plans for 2024.
BRIAN FISHBACH is a music journalist based in Los Angeles. He is also a former U.S. Senate staffer.