A modest proposal for our Presidential primary system

| June 25, 2008

As I watch the race-to-the-bottom train wreck that our national Presidential election is turning into — with four more months and two national conventions still ahead of us — I find myself asking, as do so many others, “Just how did we end up here?”

On the one hand, I’m grateful — as a political junkie — for a primary season that actually meant something. On the other hand, seeing the candidates who ran, the ones who dropped out far too early, and who we ended up with, I have to consider our Presidential nominating process fundamentally broken — and, frankly, I think it’s been broken for years, if not decades. (Seriously: Michael Dukakis? Bob Dole? John Kerry? John McCain?) And this election so far we watched Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama raise and spend nearly half a billion dollars between the two them just for the Democratic nomination. Bitterness divides the winning and losing candidates in each party. And candidates are already starting to jockey for position for 2012.

I think we should rethink the whole primary system. Here’s one set of suggestions, mostly pulled off the top of my head:

  • The primary season should be only two months long — April and May — with a rotating schedule of states.
  • There should no longer be direct voting (or caucusing) for Presidential candidates in primaries, just for delegates.
  • All such delegates should have a clearly stated and published set of policy positions that they suport, but should be required to be uncommitted to any potential candidate (and disqualified by any vocal support for or financial ties with a given candidate).
  • The Democrat’s ‘superdelegate’ concept should be adopted by the Republicans as well.
  • Each party raises funds to pay for all elected delegates to attend the parties’ two-week nominating conventions, which are held simultaneously during the last two weeks of July.
  • Prior to a given party’s nominating convention, each delegate submits a list of four preferred candidates, with the knowledge that they may end up as either President or Vice-President.
  • The top eight preferences among all delegates make ‘the final cut’ and are invited to the nominating convention.
  • The first week of the nominating convention is spent in presenting the Top Eight to the assembled delegates, through individual speeches, panel discussions, debates, and public and private functions.
  • The second week of the nominating convention is spent in selecting the candidates for President and Vice-President from among the Top Eight.
  • The Presidential campaign starts on August 1st. Voting nationwide is held during the Veteran’s Day weekend (polls open both Saturday and Sunday). Everyone has Monday off to talk about the results.

OK, that’s my magic wand attempt. Other suggestions?  ..bruce w..

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Category: 2008 Election, Commentary, Main, US Politics

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

Comments (1)

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  1. rdp says:

    Nice! As soon as possible, I’d also like to see more checks and balances coming out of the legislative and judicial branches of government against the executive branch. Checks and balances across branches need to trump party affiliation. How can we afford to allow an executive branch to get to the point where it can play by a totally different set of rules than everyone else, rapidly creating new rules, getting people off the hook for breaking old rules, and arbitrarily buying out or influencing any other branch of government in real time. If that becomes the norm, it really won’t matter what tweaks are made to the set of rules voters are playing by.

    It may be that we are attracting the wrong types of candidates because of what we’ve historically allowed this position to get away with. However, if we can restore that position (and the vice presidency) to its limited nature, governed by clearly defined constitutional boundaries, we might just start attracting more of the types of candidates we actually want.

    I believe a visible enforcement of checks and balances starting now could dramatically change the candidate pool in 2012 because it would make the position itself less desirable to those who would abuse it, and more accessible to those who would honor it.