Chris Nelson: It's Broken

Secretary of State Chris Nelson opines about the Presidential primary process in this morning’s Argus.

By the second week of February 2008, most Americans will realize the presidential nominating process is broken. Many, including myself and my fellow secretaries of state, have already arrived at that conclusion.

Over the past 20 years, the presidential primary and caucus process has undergone a dramatic change as states have moved their primary and caucus dates closer to the beginning of the presidential year. South Dakota experimented with an earlier date in 1988, 1992 and 1996 before realizing that other, larger states were getting the attention instead of us. This front-loading of the primary schedule will find over half of the states holding their primaries and caucuses on or before the first Tuesday in February of 2008. The presidential nominating process will likely be over on that date. In essence, presidential candidates will have one shot to make their case.

This front-loading of the schedule precludes the ability of most voters in America to ever see or carefully evaluate the potential nominees for president. We already are seeing that the current set of presidential candidates are spending their time and resources in a few states, with the other states – including South Dakota – left out of the process. The current front-loaded system does not serve the voters of America and needs to be changed.

Why the big deal? Well if like me you think John Edwards would make a good President, by the time June runs around and South Dakota holds it’s primary, Edwards will more than likely be out of the race. The only question left for Edwards by then will be whether or not Hillary or Barack will be calling him to fill the second spot on the ballot. Usually, states that have primaries after February or at the latest March have very little say so on who will be a party’s choice, nor will they have the chance to have candidates come to their states and explain their positions.

So what does Nelson propose?

The National Association of Secretaries of State has proposed a rotating regional primary system. The system breaks the country into four geographic regions. Each region would hold a primary in a separate month, starting with February. The order of the regional primaries would be determined by a random drawing in the first year and would rotate in successive years. Such a plan would guarantee that South Dakota and the Midwest region would hold the first presidential primary or caucus in the nation every 16 years.

Sounds nice but given the responses from the national parties whom have threatened to take away delegates from the big players from Florida and Michigan for moving their primaries, does anyone think that South Dakota with a total population that is lower than most major cities, will ever be allowed to have a say so in the nominating process? We can dream can’t we…

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