Can't we have a lottery to decide who gets the first primary?

Legacy politics assured that Iowa and New Hampshire would get the lead in setting the political agenda of a Presidential race. If you can't please them, it's hard to get nominated. And now they protect this position as hard as they can. Florida tried to move and got slapped.

There is a better way. There should be a lottery, or simply a rotation, on who gets to go first each time. All parties in a state would have to agree, but I can't see why not, and really all you need is the Republicans and Democrats. Hold the lottery several years in advance.

Letting states or regions be equal is probably best. I originally thought you might allocate chances by state size but in fact you don't want big states first. Only states that want to participate, and have their event early would be in the pool. Any state could participate in a super Tuesday or other such later events without having to win the lottery. Iowa and New Hampshire would not be permitted to participate in the lottery for 50 years -- they've had their say!

A rotation might be even better, though it would have to initially be set by lottery. To make the rotation go faster, depending on how many states want the position, there could be a couple of "first" slots and 3 or 4 "second" slots allowing 5-6 states to be important each time. A rotation however has a problem when one state changes its mind and wants to join the early pool.

Of course, you might ask, why not actually have a deliberative process, where the states are carefully chosen to be more of a cross section of the general public? It sounds good, but little stops this now other than party cooperation, and it hasn't taken place. Of course the parties may well feel that Iowa or New Hampshire push their opponents in ways they want them pushed, but this should balance. And Iowa is certainly not representative -- as it is now popular to point out, a lot more people play World of Warcraft and live in urban condos than are family farmers. As it stands now the parties have to field candidates who won't piss off the Iowa or NH voter too much, and that's wrong, because it may be necessary for the right candidate to take stances against the interest of these minorities.

Update: It is suggested that some states, like California, are simply too huge to do an early primary, because candidates can't yet afford to campaign somewhere that big, nor can they get intimate with the public. I agree, and so possibly the largest states would have to bow out of the system. Or perhaps they could hold mini-primaries for just a small portion of the state if they win the lottery, and the rest of the state would vote later, on a Super-Tuesday or similar. This does mean for example that the Democratic primary might be in San Francisco, and the Republican one in Orange County, surveying very different voters. The regions could compete in the lottery rather than the state, assuming the state assigns delegates by geography.

one drawback

While I agree that a lottery/rotation system seems more
fair, it does have drawbacks. That small (population)
states like Iowa and NH go first means that candidates
must practice so-called "retail politics" -- meeting
lots of people face-to-face and having many small rallies
where they actually answer peoples' questions. Consider
what their campaigns would be like if California was the
first primary -- it would be mostly television/radio/print
advertisements. Holding events in major metro areas
like the SF Bay would be difficult and limited. Only a
very small percentage of the state's voters would get
a chance to evaluate a candidate in person. Whatever
else you say about them, people in Iowa & NH take their
role in vetting candidates very seriously.

Very nice of them

While there can be truth to what you say, it is surely better to have more representative groups "vetting" the candidates. They are already vetted by the party powerbrokers and the rich donors of course. But these states are much more rural than the country is. It's hard to believe that what good comes of this can't be made even better in another way.

So what's the long-term

So what's the long-term effect? The USA typically elects the wrong presidents, and we gradually turn into a larger version of Iowa?

I'm not sure I'm a fan of this idea, since the 50-year-long smoothing window doesn't seem like it would make any given election more fair. With IA as a constant, campaign leaders can at least learn how to deal with whatever "bad" mix of people live in Iowa and plan the best possible campaign. They can learn lessons and improve on past mistakes. If you shuffle the states every time, there's now a new random element each election that makes things harder to predict for the candidates -and- the voting public.

To consider another form extreme, if Iowa was completely backwards from the rest of the states, would we *really* start electing the candidates that 49 states didn't want? I would like to think that we would learn to ignore the IA primary results if they stopped being interesting.

If I were a candidate

Aside from being shocked by the constitutional amendment required for that, what I would do is go out and declare publicly against farm subsidies, or corn based ethanol or some other bad issue Iowans love. Then having done that, I need not campaign in Iowa and nobody will consider my loss there to mean much of anything. But some who have done this have ended up paying for it, it seems.

slightly improving a very bad thing

I was happy when someone on (the European version) of CNN expressed
my sentiments: if some other country had such a system and called
itself a democracy, the U.S. would (rightly) be one of the first
countries to point fingers and say "Whom are you trying to fool?".

The whole system is so non-transparent, illogical, undemocratic and
silly that there is little point in discussing how to slightly improve
something which is rotten to the core.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

His name is Brad Templeton. You figure it out.
Please make up a name if you do not wish to give your real one.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Personal home pages only. Posts with biz home pages get deleted and search engines ignore all links
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options