Better Primaries

A USA Today editorial provided a very smart suggestion on how US primaries could be conducted in a more democratic, environmentally-effective, organized way that is also more likely to yield the best candidates: regional block primaries.


The end is near. Today’s elections in Montana and South Dakota conclude the longest and most outrageously disorganized presidential primary season in history, five months after it all started.

The race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also has been one of the most exhilarating. But that fact shouldn’t obscure the flaws in the process: the undue influence of early birds Iowa and New Hampshire, the mess created when Michigan and Florida jumped the line, the clustering of contests on Feb. 5 and the six-week lull leading up to the Pennsylvania primary, just to name a few.

As veteran Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., summed it up at Saturday’s Democratic rules committee meeting: "We’ve got a totally irrational system of nominating our president."

There must be a better way. And there is.

The idea has been out there for more than 20 years. Group the states and territories into regional blocks: East, South, Midwest and West. One region would vote the first Tuesday in March, one in April, one in May and one in June. The regions would rotate every four years, so no one part of the country would always be first and none always last.

Instead of racing back and forth coast to coast, burning up time and jet fuel in long-distance campaigning, candidates could focus on retail politicking in one section of the country at a time, then move on in a rational, orderly fashion to the next one.

Promoted first by academics, then in slightly modified form by the National Association of Secretaries of State (the chief election officers in most states) and other good-government groups, the proposal has stalled repeatedly on the shoals of self-interest and politics.

The states, the parties and Congress could fix this if they really wanted to. They should do so before this year’s flaws fade from memory and the exceptional Clinton-Obama race becomes romanticized.

The real winners would be the voters in 2012 and beyond.

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