The Race To Be Earliest
By Jennifer Solis
There’s no doubt that the current presidential primary process has made California irrelevant in the sweepstakes to choose a political party’s nominee.
But the bill (AB2949) passed Tuesday by the California Assembly Elections Committee to make our state hold the first nationwide primary is both unrealistic and fails to address the real problem facing voters who actually want to help select the leader of the free world.
Orange County Democrat Assemblyman Tom Umberg, who authored the pending legislation, thinks that because his bill “requires [our] Secretary of State to schedule California’s presidential primary election so that it is held before, or on the same day as, the presidential primary held in any other state,” that this will really happen. Wrong!
New Hampshire has a long standing law that requires that state to hold its primary at least seven days prior to any other state. So what will AB2949 give us? A progressively moved up schedule of dueling election days that could end up holding the 2008 primary this summer (of 2006). In the end, one of the states would have to give in. Which one?
The disenfranchisement of California voters in the presidential selection will not be solved here in California. It must be addressed at the national level. The solution must also include the elimination of the California Republicans' “winner-take-all” system, that results in a candidate finishing a close second in the primary getting shut out at the national convention.
Because California holds one of the final elections of the primary season, by which time, the race is all but over, none of the candidates are encouraged to come into our state, and seriously talk about issues important to Californians. The only candidate appearances are for fund raisers, such as President Bush’s visit to the Southland this past weekend. We serve no other purpose than an ATM machine.
AB2949 would allow the presidential primary voting to be performed by mail. Everyone would use the equivalent of an absentee ballot. Umberg estimates the cost at about $40-million – half the cost of precinct voting. Could there be sufficient security? Surely, we must have the ability to develop procedures that couldn’t be hacked or compromised.
The one good aspect of Umberg’s bill would separate the presidential race from the other statewide offices and propositions. The regular primary for the latter would continue to be held the Tuesday following the first Monday in June. Presidential politics are considerably different from state and local issues, and should be voted upon separately. But when?
The decision of when to choose party candidates for president must come from an appointed election commission, which will set the presidential primary dates for all 50 states. The best method would be to group the 50 states into ten regions of five states each. The election dates for each region would be determined by lottery – such as drawing them out of a hat. The entire procedure would be repeated every four years, to give every state, or group of states, an equal chance at being early, last or somewhere in between.
The primary elections would start the first week of April and end ten weeks later in early June. That allows at least two months to prepare for the national conventions, which should be much more meaningful and exciting (read TV ratings) by having the states send delegates selected on a proportional basis, according to each candidate’s share of the states' primary voting. Independent and “decline-to-state” voters could vote in only one of a major party’s primary, but could choose another party four years later.
The current system of allowing New Hampshire and Iowa, the first two states to select primary candidates, gives them unrealistic influence over the overall process. Their procedures for these selections have little to do with choosing successful national standard bearers who have broad-based appeal. Being victorious in the NH elections or the Iowa caucuses relies more upon precinct organization and local endorsements.
A national candidate must have a campaign based on a strong message, and the ability to speak well on television.
Why not have a national primary, for all 50 states, in June? The cost would be prohibitive. Just look what it costs just to run a Senate campaign in California. The candidates would simply select a few “swing” states in which to campaign, as is now done prior to the November general election. The national conventions, which showcase each party’s message, and allow for a possible “dark horse” to emerge with the nomination, would become extinct.
So thanks, Assemblyman Umberg for trying. If your bill somehow passes the legislature and is signed by the governator, at least the competition with New Hampshire should be fun. But in the final analysis, election reform is a national problem, and will not be corrected in Sacramento.