Why aren't U.S. Presidential Primary elections all on the same day?
January 29, 2008 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Why aren't U.S. Presidential Primary elections all on the same day?

Hello, disenfranchised Florida democratic voter here. This morning, I went to my polling place and voted for who I wanted the Democrat candidate to be, but technically, it will not matter because Florida tried to move their primaries earlier and the DNC responded by declaring our votes invalid.

So, the reason Florida wanted to have earlier elections was so that WE could matter like all those other early-primary states. And, the reason the DNC declared us moot was because if all states tried to matter in the primary, then it would be.....chaos...or something. Or would it?

Why don't all states vote on the same day, or at least way closer to each other, to make the process more fair? It isn't a constitutional requirement, as far as I can tell. It is all just because of stupid politics and campaigning?
posted by hybridvigor to Law & Government (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tradition?

No, seriously, why shouldn't the candidates have time to campaign from state to state?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:11 PM on January 29, 2008


The current primary system is built to make sure the candidates get to meet voters face to face instead of relying primarily on mass media to get their message across. I think this is a good idea in theory but I don't like the idea that New Hampshire and Iowa have 10x the power that my vote has. Actually I'm in NC which holds it's primary months from now, so I actually have no power whatsoever at selecting a candidate.

I am opposed to a national primary day but I also don't like the way they're doing it now. The good news is that they have a plan to separate the nation into 'regions' which would take turns going first each election which makes sense to me.

The bad news is no one ever bothers to change elections in ways that make sense despite how many warning signs they have ahead of time (paperless electronic voting machines? the electoral college? etc)
posted by ZackTM at 2:16 PM on January 29, 2008


Well, it's only recently that voters even chose parties' candidates. They still do so indirectly.

But yes, the basic idea is that by having the votes spread out, candidates can spend time in states both big and small, rather than just going to the biggest population and media centers.
posted by YoungAmerican at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2008


Marketing. You don't want to sell too much too fast. Keep the buzz flowing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:22 PM on January 29, 2008


It's because it's up to each state to decide when to have their primary, not up to Congress to set one date for all. Historically, it made sense for them to be spread out over a few months, because when candidates were moving around by train and whatnot, states could have more exposure to a candidate if they didn't all vote at the same time. New Hampshire claimed primacy in this procession of primaries, and by and large that was honored by the rest of the states. As a practical matter, we are now gravitating toward a national primary with Super Tuesday up to 22 states. I would not be surprised to see nearly all states voting on Super Tuesday, next time around, although there is some advantage in being at the end of the pack, also, in case no one gets an early lock on the nomination.

I do think (agreeing with ZackTM on preview) that there is a strong argument to be made for allowing New Hampshire, Iowa and a few other states to be ahead of the pack. In those states, the candidates are forced to mix and mingle with the voters in small groups, living rooms, coffee shops, etc. If there were just one national primary, this would not happen, and no one would get a chance to see, hear, feel and smell the candidates on behalf of the rest of us. New Hampshire and Iowa, by doing this for us, do an admirable job of sorting the race down to the serious candidates the rest of us should consider. A single national primary, by contrast, would just be a contest to see who can raise the most money to run the most commercials to deliver the most soundbites. Signficant, telling moments like the "Hillary tear", the "Dean scream", Bill Clinton's out-of-bounds remarks, and the like would simply not occur.

Political considerations will probably prevent forever a logical national approach to the process, anyway, but if there ever were to be one, it should include the equivalent of NH/Iowa, perhaps by having a rotation in which 3 or 4 small states go first in one election, a different group in the next election, and so on, followed by a Super Tuesday for everyone else.
posted by beagle at 2:25 PM on January 29, 2008


Couldn't candidates spend their time campaigning across the whole country for 6 months, and THEN we could all vote together? Do they think that we're so dumb that we would forget about them if we had to wait a few months to vote after their campaign came through?

Why are people opposed to a national primary day?
posted by hybridvigor at 2:26 PM on January 29, 2008


Couldn't candidates spend their time campaigning across the whole country for 6 months

But this isn't what would happen. It doesn't happen in the National General election, there's no reason to think that it would for a primary. Instead, the candidates would spend a lot of money in a few states, and that would decide the election, much like it decides the general. There are two key things here. By staggering the dates, you allow candidates with less money to focus their initial resources. Secondly, by holding the first two primaries in small states, you do something to undermine the power of money, since candidates with fewer resources a chance to compete.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:30 PM on January 29, 2008


It's because it's up to each state to decide when to have their primary

But it's not really up to each state to decide—that's clear from the DNC's Florida/Michigan decision. It's up to each state to decide within certain limits. One of those limits is when a given party's national convention takes place. Another of those limits is how quickly candidates can get around to all the states (or, well, all the states that "matter"). And there are probably other limits that haven't been mentioned yet.
posted by limeonaire at 2:52 PM on January 29, 2008


For what it's worth, Super Tuesday is actually up to 24 states this year, beagle.
posted by disillusioned at 2:56 PM on January 29, 2008


They aren't on the same day because the Democratic Party, as an organization, doesn't want them all to be on the same day. (Or the Republican Party, but they're not who you asked about)

We have a tendency in the US to blur the lines between Federal requirements and State requirements, both because it can be confusing and we're lazy and because States aren't quite as independent in operation as they once were. The Fed requires-without-requiring things like speed limits by saying you can do what you want but hey, if you don't do what WE want then we don't give you matching funds.

We similarly blur the lines between the process of electing a President and selecting a Presidential candidate for a party. With some constraints, each party (or any party theoretically, though only 2 have any reasonable chance of making it) can do selection how they like. You see this somewhat in the caucuses, though the press didn't make much off it - the Dems do this bizzare thing with people walking from room to room and making deals and all of them actually disclosing who they're supporting.

The Republicans write down their choice on a piece of paper and go home.

It makes a significant difference, since the Dem practice removes a lot of outliers and makes for different spreads. And it shows that the parties are free to set their own rules. A new Discordian Party might decide they're going to pick six possible candidates and roll a die to pick one. If there's nothing in the State constitution forbidding it then they can do it. Likely even if there was they could challenge whether such limits infringed on their freedom of speech and assembly. I don't know if there's any law in Iowa requiring the caucus format, but I doubt it and I doubt even more strongly that they could force a group to use the system if they didn't want to.

So we come to your situation. The Democratic Party wants to keep certain procedures in place and groups of people on their good side. So they say you have to stay within certain guidelines or you're out. Florida didn't, and exactly whose fault that is seems to be up for debate. But the bottom line is that while the State government handles the mechanics of collecting votes in the primary system - because we've codified this two party system deep in our governmental DNA - they still aren't the exclusive arbiters of what counts and doesn't.
posted by phearlez at 3:04 PM on January 29, 2008


It would put an excessive financial burden on smaller candidates to have to campaign (and buy ad space) in so many markets at once. With the current system, it's a bit more spread out, and allows smaller candidates more time to raise money and get their message out.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:09 PM on January 29, 2008


...allows smaller candidates more time to raise money and get their message out

Not to mention saving money by bailing on a race if they feel like they don't have a chance.
posted by puddleglum at 3:26 PM on January 29, 2008


ok so what if we took the gigantic money out of the race and put the primaries on the same day? Because the money is as equally as nuts as the fact that my vote isn't worth diddly.
posted by sully75 at 3:35 PM on January 29, 2008


As some pointed out, its about allowing candidates of less fame and/or campaign chests compete on a closer level with those who are political celebrities (a la Hillary).

Another reason is that it helps focus the politics on smaller states. If we had one giant primary day, the candidates would spend the majority (not all) but a lot of their time in the states with the largest number of delegates, like California, Texas, etc. The current system allows for attention to be given to the less populous states.

Myself, I don't mind having a few single states up front, but it'd be great if this was some form of rotating privilege. Say, next year, its Hawaii, Mississippi, and Delaware, instead of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.


Of course, we could always go back to the old political machine days, and just send delegates to the convention and let the candidates fight over them like meat scraps in a dog pound.
posted by Atreides at 3:42 PM on January 29, 2008


Well, New Hampshire has a law that it must have the earliest primary. Which seems a bit strange, but there ya go. Demographically, it doesn't make sense because nearly all-white, rural Iowa and NH get to go first. They should really have a more urban state in there, one with a large city that has to deal with city problems.

Actually, if you really want to be pitied, move to Indiana. Hardly any electoral votes, and the state usually votes Republican so Republicans don't come because they'll win and the Democrats don't bother because they'll lose. If you're a liberal there it's much worse than Florida.
posted by Jhoosier at 4:26 PM on January 29, 2008


let the candidates fight over them like meat scraps in a dog pound.

Who let the dogs out?
posted by GuyZero at 4:27 PM on January 29, 2008


New Hampshire has a state law that says its primary must be at least one week earlier than that of any other state. That's because the voters of the State of New Hampshire like being sucked up to by the candidates.

The parties could end this. They could refuse to seat delegates from New Hampshire until it revokes that law and sets its primary to be the same day as everyone's else's. But that's not really very likely.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:37 PM on January 29, 2008


If we had one giant primary day, the candidates would spend the majority (not all) but a lot of their time in the states with the largest number of delegates, like California, Texas, etc. The current system allows for attention to be given to the less populous states.

Don't forget that in many (most?) states the delegates are apportioned by Congressional District, not a winner-take-all deal like today's Florida primary. Next week, the candidates have the opportunity to pick up huge amounts of delegates in big states like California, but they have to do it one Congressional District at a time -- and for the Democrats, the delegates per district are split proportionally. In this scenario, there's some benefit to the candidate making a serious effort even in smaller states, since there's (in a way) several hundred separate district races occurring on the same day, not just 20-odd statewide races.

Just typing this all out is making me dizzy...
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:19 PM on January 29, 2008


One problem with trying to take the large sums of money out of the campaign process is that this, it could be argued, would qualify as a limit on free speech.
posted by oddman at 5:27 PM on January 29, 2008


Oddman, it damned well should have, but for some unfathomable reason SCOTUS decided that the McCain-Feingold law didn't infringe the First Amendment.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:36 PM on January 29, 2008


In what way do Iowa and New Hampshire have more power than the other states? I thought the important number was the total delegates from all states. Delegates from an early state aren't worth any more than those elected later so why does the order matter?

I'm not an American but it is a serious question.
posted by tetranz at 5:58 PM on January 29, 2008


In what way do Iowa and New Hampshire have more power than the other states?

These contests don't take place in a vacuum or a time capsule. If a candidate who is thought to strong crashes in an early contest (e.g. Howard Dean, Ed Muskie) his candidacy will not last until the later ones. The early contests influence the perceptions of the media and the voters as the contests move to the later states.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:21 PM on January 29, 2008


I agree with you 100%. The way it is now is too dragged out. I don't think the best candidate rises to the top--it is the one with the most intestinal fortitude to survive the process. The truly gifted and visionary folks are weeded out early because they are trying to live their morals and not stoop to the same slimy crap the veteran politicians dish out. I think that is why Obama is so popular now (not to say he isn't qualified for the job). He seems fresh and untainted yet he plays the game well.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:19 PM on January 29, 2008


ok so what if we took the gigantic money out of the race and put the primaries on the same day?

If there's no money, then the candidates with the most name recognition going in will win.
posted by smackfu at 7:31 PM on January 29, 2008


New Hampshire has a state law that says its primary must be at least one week earlier than that of any other state.

Is this a matter of other states respecting NH law or NH waiting until all other dates are set? Or a little of both? Just curious what's stopping another state from saying, "Screw you- we're passing our own 'we're first' law! Or we're just ignoring your law and making our primary first!"
posted by jmd82 at 7:57 PM on January 29, 2008


It's actually the DNC respecting NH, and not accepting delegates from states that go before it.
posted by smackfu at 8:33 PM on January 29, 2008


JMD82, other states have tried that, and every time they move their primaries up, NH also did. That's why this all happens in January and February now. When I turned 21 and could vote, the primaries started in like April.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:03 PM on January 29, 2008


But smackfu, Florida and Michigan did not go before New Hampshire. They both went after. However, the problem is they considered that they went too close after.

I agree with Atreides if we are going to let small states go first, you should rotate which small states those are. There are plenty of other states that only have small voices in the House of Representatives besides New Hampshire and Iowa.

The other thing I would also change would be no more Super Delegates either.
posted by lilacorlavender at 9:06 PM on January 29, 2008


Oh, sorry, meant to hit preview. The first they should be the DNC and the second they should refer to Florida and Michigan.
posted by lilacorlavender at 9:07 PM on January 29, 2008


But smackfu, Florida and Michigan did not go before New Hampshire.

True, that's why I say going before New Hampshire would surely get your delegates revoked. I assume the renegade states knew that wouldn't fly, but figured they could get away with "shortly after".
posted by smackfu at 9:56 PM on January 29, 2008


New Hampshire only went first because it moved its primary after Florida and Michigan moved theirs. I can see why Florida and Michigan voters would be frustrated, but you can also see that if there weren't some sort of sanctions we would eventually be voting in the next primary as soon as the current one was over. Tons of states moved their primaries up to super Tuesday this year and didn't get sanctioned for that.
posted by yarrow at 6:30 AM on January 30, 2008


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