Time to scrap the primaries

Jan 232008
Authors: Seth Anthony

The chaos is upon us — in less than two weeks, it’ll be Colorado’s turn as one of more than twenty states that vote on Super Tuesday, February 5.

If the frantic pace of weekly primary elections seems more like American Idol than good government, there’s good reason. Never in American history have early primaries been as closely packed together.

Historically, there have been weeks between the traditional early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, then weeks between New Hampshire and South Carolina. Super Tuesday, which began in April back in 1984, has steadily crept earlier, and now sits in the first week of February.

With primaries packed so close together, there’s barely enough time to calculate the margins of victory, let alone talk about ideas concerning actual policy, before it’s time for another state to vote. And in the rush of states trying to get their voices in early in the process, the voice of any one state — such as Colorado, now a Super Tuesday state for the first time — is drowned out in the crowd.

How did we get into this mess? It’s largely a result of the way primaries are scheduled.

Even though primaries exist to help Republicans and Democrats choose nominees, the primary schedule isn’t controlled by either party. Instead, it’s controlled for the most part by state legislatures — and this leads to odd conflicts.

Take Florida for instance. The Republican-controlled Florida legislature moved Florida’s primary up before Super Tuesday — even though that means, under party rules, Florida’s Democratic delegates won’t count, disenfranchising Florida voters from the process.

It’s not all Republicans screwing over Democrats, though — when the Democrats allowed delegates from an early Nevada caucus to count, Nevada moved its selection date up, forcing Nevada Republicans to run a poorly-organized and poorly-attended caucus.

States can also mandate bizarre rules for the primaries.

Michigan, for instance, allows Democrats to cross over and vote in the Republican primary, and vice-versa. Some states let unaffiliated voters cast ballots in party primaries; some don’t.

Choosing a caucus over a primary changes who shows up to vote. And the political party that controls the legislature can set the rules for every other party — and, since the primaries are run by each state, not the parties, they all pass along the bill to all of us.

If the major parties are looking for an example of how to take back control of their nominating contests, they should just look at South Carolina, where, until recently, the state Republican and Democratic parties organize, schedule, and pay for their own primaries, without passing the burden along to taxpayers.

States that hold caucuses, like Iowa or Colorado, also set good examples.

Republicans and Democrats could learn, too, from the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, who choose their nominees at national conventions without a dime of taxpayer money supporting their selection processes.

The change can happen in two ways — either national committees can step up and say, “we’re going to find a different way,” or states themselves can hand the ball back to political parties.

Colorado made the responsible choice in 2000 when it axed its presidential primary, saving Coloradans over $2 million. Once they have true control, parties can set rules, schedules, and processes that actually make sense, and aren’t subject to manipulation by their political opponents or dependent on our tax dollars.

It’s long past time to turn control of political party primaries back to the groups they benefit — political parties. Anything less is private political business paid for at our expense.

Seth Anthony is a Chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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