A Red State post earlier this week on the impact of the Iowa Supreme Court ruling on the 2012 primaries prompted me to think once again about the election process. I've been troubled by the way that small states have had unusual sway in the process and how the tortuous process has led to the way-too-early-demise of various candidates. "Super Tuesday" and other things have really twisted the process into an unhealthy shape. Last cycle's comedies of state legislatures trying to be 'first in line' became comical, and the draconian response by both the Democrat National Committee and Republican National Committee didn't really restore the process, either.
The failed attempts at regulating campaign finance with the FEC and McCain-Feingold are also contributing to the chaos. Last cycle's experience shows: 1) that an enormous amount of money can be raised quickly;2) the FEC can't act effectively to stop abuses of the law during the process. The myth that it takes two years to get things in place should also be tossed aside; making the process this difficult hasn't led to higher quality candidates or races. Money has not been a sole determinant in winning, either, although it obviously helps.
I propose we try the following steps:
-- Make it illegal to start an exploratory committee or other fundraising source until Jan 1 of the election year. Let local parties do their best to establish grass roots organizations and focus first on principles, not candidates. Deciding on candidates too early in the process is not healthy, as is the process of establishing the 'front runner' two years ahead based on the amount of funding raised, rather than any other measure.
-- On July 1 of the year preceeding the election, the heads of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee, along with the Governors of the respective states conduct a lottery to establish the order of the primaries and caucuses. The first election would be held on the first Tuesday of February and no more than the first 4 states could hold primaries on that date. On each subsequent Tuesday, for 13 weeks, the next 4 states would hold their elections, with the last election Tuesday held for the the last of the 50 states & Puerto Rico, according to their order of selection.
The randomness of the drawing would combine small, medium and large states in an unpredictable order and end the silliness of "if we can convince a small number of folks in Iowa we're going to rocket ahead." By making it impossible to know which states come first, we could end the perpetual campaigning and the spectacle of a Northeastern Senator moving his family to Iowa to 'take the early lead.' It would not advantage any candidate to start heavily campaigning in one state or another months ahead of the primary; they might actually have to have their performance in a position of leadership speak for them instead of empty blather on the dinner circuit.
-- Instead of endless campaigning, the states could sponsor forums or gatherings where candidates would have to articulate details important to the specific local/regional/national perspective and really show some grasp of issues in dialogue that is not staged or scripted to the extent that our debates currently are. Instead of journalists being the questioners, let's try real citizens or actual experts in energy, finance and the Constitution.
We need to take any action that restores the process and enables more voter participation and influence. The current media-and-money driven process has harmed our ability to identify leaders with good ideas, character and records of accomplishment and encourage them to take the path toward election and public service. What we have now is a method where individuals choose themselves and get financial backing to saturate us with images and feelings so that we 'feel good' about electing them without understanding what they will accomplish once elected.