Democrats & Liberals Archives

Improving the Primary Process

I am not happy with America’s primary election process for Presidential elections. Both major parties have decided their candidates eight months before the general election and over four months before the conventions at which those choices will be formalized. Already, we have seen the campaigns turn negative, both from the campaign organizations themselves and especially from the respective echo chambers.

We have seven months of sniping, spinning, and negative campaigning to go. Is this the best way to prepare for a national election?

I was not impressed with how the Democratic primaries proceeded this year. I've never seen a primary process in which momentum and "electability" played a larger role. Kerry's main strength seemed to be the notion that he had the best chance of beating Bush in the general election since he won a caucus in a single state. Once he won Iowa, the momentum of his electability carried him directly through to the nomination without ever explaining how that single victory over fellow Democrats in a relatively small state proved he could beat Bush.

Further, it's odd and probably unfair that the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire had such a strong influence on the decision of the national party, and yet the voters of New Jersey, a large state, have no say in the decision because their primary is last.

This site does a great job of outlining the weaknesses of our current system, although the site is biased towards a particular replacement, the California Plan. It also presents several other options.

The primary system is not mandated by the constitution, so we could replace it. What options are there to improve it? We are limited in our options by the direct election of our Chief Executive (I'm ignoring the Electoral College and comparing our system to parliamentary systems). Are there any other large, stable, federal democracies that we could use as models for improving our system?

I looked at the election processes of several other democracies (thanks to the State Department): Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Of these, only Brazil, France, and Mexico have stable democracies with direct presidential election (most have parliamentary systems). This list is somewhat arbitrary, because I included only countries large enough and varied enough that a national primary wouldn't represent regional differences.

It seems that Brazil has a national primary system, but I am not sure. France has a two-ballot system of presidential elections in which the first ballot functions as a sort of national primary election in which a single champion will emerge from both left and right, and these champions will then participate in the second ballot. Mexico recently instituted national primaries.

So, it seems we have no international models for local or regional primaries for a directly-elected presidency.

Before our current primary system, we had selection of candidates at conventions that were often derided as being run by deals made in "smoke filled rooms". I don't want to go back to that, because I want voter interaction in the process. However, I want an election season more like Britain's or Canada's, in which the election season is shorter with much less money influence. Is such a thing possible in America? Would the California Plan help?

Posted by LawnBoy at April 7, 2004 8:00 AM