Whatever I'm Thinking

A Better Primary Election Schedule

Hat tip to @TheTonyLee for help on this idea.

Anyone looking at the schedule for the 2012 GOP Presidential primary season will see a mish-mash of states and dates that most resembles a plate of spaghetti thrown at the dining room wall. On some election days there will be only one state’s primary scheduled, while on others there will be two or three, and on yet others there may be as many as ten states’ primaries scheduled.

That’s only one problem. Geographically speaking, primary dates are all over the map. In many cases states far apart host their primaries on the very same day, making it very difficult for a candidate to campaign effectively in each. For example, Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries on February 28. Are the candidates going to fly from Phoenix to Detroit then back to Tucson then back to Grand Rapids? Or, consider the logistics for Super Tuesday (March 6) where voters go to the polls in the far Northeast (Massachusetts), in the Deep South (Georgia), in the Midwest (Ohio), in the Southwest (Oklahoma), and in the Far West (Idaho and Alaska). Then after the exhaustion of Super Tuesday the candidates can turn the full weight of their campaign energies on little Kansas, which is the only state to hold its caucus on March 10.

How many Americans understand all this? Does it make good sense to anyone?

Ladies and Gentlemen, and pundits, there has to be a better way!

I’d like to see presidential candidates campaign through as many states as possible with the same intensity that they currently do in Iowa and New Hampshire. To do this we need to cut down the candidates travel time drastically. We also need to allow them to maximize the reach of their media purchases by consolidating election schedules around existing media markets.

To accomplish these goals I propose changing the future scheduling of presidential primaries and caucuses. The new schedule will consist of four weeks of single-state elections followed week after week by regional primaries in which neighboring states are clustered together to vote on the same day.  This scheme will shorten the primary season as a whole, cut down on wasteful travel, consolidate media markets for spending efficiency, and generally make sense to the American people.

Here are the details.

First, we can keep intact the scheduling of the first four states’ elections. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada can each have its own primary/caucus on its own day a week apart. This is more than just traditional; it is actually regionally equitable since these four states each represent one of the country’s four main regions.

Second, the remaining group of 46 states (plus the District of Columbia) would be separated into 12 defined regions, each of which will hold its elections a week apart. States will vote on the same day as other states within its region.

Now for the fun part. These regions will be loosely based on NCAA athletic conferences, of which most red-blooded Americans are familiar. Happily this lends itself to memorable names — there will be an ACC Primary, an Ivy League Primary, a Big-10 Primary and so forth. This may sound flippant at first, but any change will be more easily embraced when its terms are more familiar to the people.

For the first presidential election cycle the order in which each region will vote will be determined randomly; then rotated in each subsequent cycle in much the same way that the NFL rotates inter-divisional matchups. No region will always vote first and no region will always vote last.

I also recommend that the first election be moved back to the first week of February. With the new scheduling there is no longer any reason to move this process up to the frigid month of January.

Here is a sample election schedule.  Again, the first four weeks of the schedule would remain the same in each presidential election cycle:

Week 1: Iowa

Week 2: New Hampshire

Week 3: South Carolina. South Carolina has been first among Southern states in many other ways, why not in elections as well.

Week 4: Nevada. So far we’ve had a Midwestern state, a Northeastern state, and a Southern state. Somebody has to be first in the West and Nevada seems to want the title.

Weeks 5 through 16 would consist of regional primaries. Here are my groupings. Again, the actual order in which each region would vote would be chosen at random at first and then rotated in each subsequent presidential cycle.

A) The Ivy League Primary. States of Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Total population of 13,128,395. Major media markets would include Boston, Providence and Hartford. This primary will have the second-smallest population of the 12 regions.

B) The Big East Primary. States of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Total population of 40,872,375. Major media markets would include New York City, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. This primary will have the largest population of any of the 12 regions, but I don’t want to separate New Jersey since its media markets are really the New York City and Philadelphia media markets.

C) The ACC Primary. States of Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina plus the District of Columbia. Total population of 26,662,710. Major media markets would include Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte. Note that West Virginia is included here although traditionally it is included in the Big East football conference. However, geographically West Virginia shares more of its border with Virginia that any Big East state and its population of almost 2 million would be insignificant if combined with the Big East’s 40 million.

D) SEC East Primary. States of Georgia and Florida. Total population of 28,488,963. Major media markets included are Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Atlanta. Originally I wanted to keep the whole SEC together but the total population would have exceeded 47 million.

E) SEC West Primary. States of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Total population of 18,626,510. Major media markets would include Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham and New Orleans. Note that I exclude the states of Kentucky and Arkansas from the SEC regions entirely. More on that later.

F) Big-10 East Primary. States of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Total population of 32,243,313. Major media markets would include Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Louisville. I’d use the Big-10’s “Legends” and “Leaders” monikers if they made any geographic sense whatsoever, but they don’t. I’ve included the state of Kentucky in this Big-10 primary to accommodate the many media markets that straddle the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana and Ohio, such as Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville.

G) Big-10 West Primary. States of Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. Total population of 23,821,543. Major media markets would include Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

H) Big-12 Primary. States of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas. Total population of 18,822,426. Major media markets would include Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Little Rock, Wichita, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. It makes sense to include Missouri here because the Kansas City media market straddles Missouri and Kansas. Also I think Arkansas belongs here in the Big-12 primary with its trans-Mississippi neighbors. Don’t even tell me that the Big-12 football conference is breaking up because I don’t care. The Big-12 will live on in the spirit of the Plains.

I) The Texas Primary. State of Texas only. Total population of 25,145,561. Major media markets would include Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso. The large population means a one-state primary makes sense.

J) The Big Sky Primary. States of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. Total population of 19,364,900. Major media markets include Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson, Salt Lake City and Boise. I realize that ‘Big Sky’ really only refers to the state of Montana but the name “Big Sky Primary” is so much better than the bland and pedantic “Mountain West Primary.”

K) The California Primary. State of California only. Total population of 37,253,956. Major media markets would include Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento. Like Texas, the large single-state population means that a one-state primary makes sense. As it is this will be the second-most populous primary following the Big East Primary which has 40 million.

L) The RainWater Primary. States of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii. Total population of 12,626,146. Major media markets would include Seattle, Spokane, Portland and Honolulu. This region will have the smallest population of any of the 12 regions. Hopefully candidates will be able to campaign in Hawaii a bit. The state of Hawaii fits easily here since the Little League World Series organizers also group Hawaii with the Northwest region in their annual summer baseball tournament. There really isn’t a unique football conference to lend its name to this regional primary so I chose the crummy name RainWater because I used to live in Portland and I don’t like it there anymore.

This is my scheme. Comments are welcome.

As it was with NCAA athletic conferences, these regional primaries can only come about with the consent and cooperation of state governments. I have no illusion that central Federal authority can or will impose any such plan.

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