Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Random Primaries - The Time Has Come

Greetings from Pennsylvania where primary fever and the contest between Senators Clinton and Obama culminates this evening. Oh sure, there are other primaries, but this is the 'do-or-die' contest for Senator Clinton, right? And I must say that I see much more electoral enthusiasm here than I did in California two months back, but unfortunately there's still a subtext that bothers me—a commonality between my home state and the state where I happen to be vacationing: No group should be cut out of the democratic process the way large and influential states have been in the past. Nor should any state be disenfranchised by party elites the way Florida and Michigan will be at the Democratic convention—merely because they had the temerity to make themselves influential through early primaries.

The plain fact is that the sacredness of the primary schedule is an undemocratic blight on the presidential election process. Residents of Iowa and New Hampshire don't have some god-given right to exert influence far exceeding their populations. Moreover, the unprecedented length of this campaign is not only an enormous waste of money and resources, it's a waste of the scant attention span that most of us have to devote to the campaign.

The primary schedule is like the Electoral College in the way it perverts the process. Where the former gives candidates the opportunity to attack and hopefully eliminate each other while only catering to small slice of the electorate, the latter does the same for the nominees, reducing the whole election to a few 'battleground' states where the margins between parties are razor thin. Good for the parties; good for the candidates; bad for democracy. And we're not going to be able to fix the electoral college anytime soon, but the primary schedule? That we can fix, and deal with the 'never-ending campaign' at the same time. "How?" You may ask. Simple: Randomize the primary schedule.

For argument's sake, let's say that nobody gets to announce their candidacy or raise a single dime of money before June 1st of the election year. Then...for 12 weeks beginning the first Tuesday before the July 4th holiday, we hold 4 primaries each week from a randomized list drawn up on the same day as the candidates' announcements. (We'll do six in the last week to bring things to a close on a Super Tuesday in September.) Then...two weeks to the conventions and 6 weeks to the general election.

VOILA! How patriotic! How efficient! How democratic! No more elections that resemble candidate-crushing, attention-sapping marathons characterized more by the amount of money spent than the issues raised and discussed. No more watching states that comprise 60% of the electorate get sidelined—2008 being the only counter-argument of the last 40 years. Now if only we could do away with the Electoral College.

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