Random thoughts about delegates

On one of the political mailing lists, there has been yet another discussion about the delegate selection process. I wrote an email about it which I thought I would copy to my blog:

The delegate selection system clearly needs improvement, but I think we need to think carefully about the types of improvements we are suggesting and how they affect the bigger picture.

In my mind, the goal is to get a greater number of people involved in the process of electing our next president. To the extent that the choice has been winnowed down to just two candidates before the vast majority of Americans have their chance to get involved, or many later states might not any choice at all, the process is broken.

So, how do we fix it? One idea is to have states circumvent or ignore the rules of the Democratic Party. I think this is particularly dangerous. I do not want to see states that refuse to play by the rules of the Democratic Party get preferential treatment over states that do play by the rules. Nor do I want to see our candidate be the candidate who is most effective at circumventing rules.

Another idea has been to have a nation wide primary. I think this is also a bad idea. Here is why. While this would give every state the same standing in electing delegates it would destroy the 'retail' politics that is so important in the early states. The chances of a six-year-old girl in a small state to shake hands with the next President would be greatly reduced, and I believe that this sort of retail politics is an essential component of getting the greatest number of people as highly involved in the process of selecting our next President. Instead, the contest would become even more about who could raise the most money and blanket the commercial airwaves with as many thirty second advertisements as possible.

No, there must be better ways. There are two thoughts that have struck me during this season. The first is to take New Hampshire's argument of why they should be first and look closely at it. The argument goes that New Hampshire should be first because they have the highest level of involvement. To me, that is a compelling argument. However, I'm not sure it has really been tested and it certainly hasn't been made into policy.

How would you test this? How would you make this policy? Perhaps the order in which states vote in the primaries should be determined by the percentage turnout in each state. The higher the turnout, the earlier you get to vote in the next primary cycle. Not only would this test the argument of New Hampshire, but it would also provide incentive to other states. If you want your primary to be early, get out the vote. That is the sort of incentive I would life to see more of.

The other thought that I've had is that much of the problem relates to the way the media covers things. The traditional media has its narrative. They like a two-person race where the candidates are beating up each other. It is the story they know how to tell. Because of that, all you hear about are the two front runners, and strong candidates with good policies too often do not get enough media coverage because they are not one of the top two. We need to change that. How? I'm not sure, but I think it has to do with becoming part of the media ourselves.

Sure, we can go out and read the political blogs. We can post comments or diaries on them, or even start our own blogs. However, most people don't look at the political blogs. They watch the nightly news, or cable news. They are interested in other stories than just the political. If we really want to change the political discourse, and get more people involved, we need to link it more to everyday people's daily lives. We need to create a new media ecology that does a better job of not only covering the political news but ties it to things that those who are not political junkies want to hear about. The ability to blog, post podcasts, pictures and videos may be part of the solution.

In response, one person suggested that the “argument for New Hampshire being so early is circular. New Hampshirites are more involved because they get more opportunity to see and visit with the candidates, since the state is small and the candidates spend six months to a year practically living there.”

However, if you look more closely, you will find it isn’t circular if you look at results for the general election instead of for the primaries. I wrote the following response.

According to the United States Elections Project, the states with the highest Voting Age Population turnout for the Highest Office in the 2004 General Election (which looking at the data is the best measure for voting activity), New Hampshire comes in fourth after Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Maine. Iowa comes in ninth, with South Dakota, Alaska and Oregon all coming in ahead of Iowa.

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