National Primary for 2012?

Ron Gunzburger reports on an effort to federalize the presidential primaries starting with the 2012 cycle:

Three US Senators are out with an innovative plan to change the Presidential primary process in future years. The bipartisan trio want to end the frontloaded primary calendar. US Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are the sponsors of the proposal to mandate a federally regulated Presidential primary calendar starting in 2012. The plan would preserve the first-in-the-nation status of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Following IA and NH would be four regional contests — South, Northeast, Midwest and West — being held once a month and determined by a random drawing. Expect much opposition to the idea, but I think it’s worth a look.

While I prefer a two-stage national primary, this idea does have merit in that it would at least restore some order to the process. My only real objection is that I’d do away with the separate Iowa and New Hampshire votes, going to the four regional contests only.

Aside from whether this idea will fly, it’s unclear whether Congress actually has the authority to mandate this. Party primaries are not federal elections, after all.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Adam Graham says:

    We need Iowa and New Hampshire at the beginning to give candidates with small budgets a shot to get their message out in a small state without having to raise millions. This bill makes sense, because it will cut the money candidates have to immediately raise to run for the presidency.

  2. James Joyner says:

    give candidates with small budgets a shot to get their message out in a small state without having to raise millions

    But why those two, incredibly unrepresentative, states every time? And, frankly, in an era with so many communications outlets, it’s strange to think that the best way to get the message out is to eat pancakes with the same 20 people for two straight years.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    By the time the Illinois primaries have taken place the decisions have all but been made. It’s enervating to say the least. However, in Illinois I’m not sure a national primary would be a lot better—the regular party candidates always win in Illinois, both on the Republican and Democratic sides.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    I’m not sure this passes constitutional muster.

    Article II, Section 1

    Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

    So the manner the states direct currently is a primary held at a time and in a place that the state wants, the winners of the primary are then entered into a general election which determines the states slate of electors (most states are winner take all, a couple give the two senatorial elector spots to the overall winner and the representative spots to the winner of each congressional district).

    Now the congress gets involved again.

    Article II, Section 1
    The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

    This lets congress set the date for the general election (‘Time of chusing the electors’) and when the electors meet with the limit that it be the same throughout the US.

    In contrast, it looks like congress could do this primary scheme for electing congress critters.

    Section 4 – Elections, Meetings

    The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.

    The two stage, primary/general election certainly falls under manner. The only limitation would appear to be that congress couldn’t overrule the states choices of polling places, at least as it pertains to electing senators. Realize that when written, election of senators was by state legislature.

  5. James Joyner says:

    YAJ,

    Not sure that the first two are directly applicable, since this bill wouldn’t alter the Electoral College or, indeed, even the general election. The last is more intriguing but, again, it’s not about primaries.

    My constitutional argument is really the reverse: The Constitution sets forth certain areas where Congress has authority over elections for federal office. This ain’t one of them.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    James,

    I think the first is directly applicable if we are talking about a presidential election. The primaries are part of the process of selecting the electors as they impact who goes onto the general election ballot which in turn is used to determine the electors chosen.

    How do we elect the president?

    First, states determine who is going to be on ballot for the general election. For the small parties this may be as simple as filing in a form. For the two major parties, the states hold a primary election.

    Second, the results of all the state primary elections is used by the national parties to select their candidate. The selected candidates are entered onto the ballot for the general election.

    Third, the general election is held and this determines the electors.

    Forth, the electors meet and vote for the president.

    Now look again at what the constitution says.

    Article II, Section 1

    Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

    The manner of appointing the electors by the states is the above primary election to national party convention, followed by national parties putting the names on the ballot followed by a general election. Good, bad or indifferent, this is how the states have chosen to “appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors”. There is no wording that gives congress the right to change this manner in which electors are appointed by the state (as opposed to the congress critter elections which does give congress override powers).

    Congress can only set the date for the national election and when the electors meet. It doesn’t say time, manner and place for the national election, just time.

    While I am intrigued by the merits of the regional primary, I don’t see any language in the constitution that would give congress the power to set the primary schedule.

    I agree that the ‘enumerated powers’ argument could also be applied, but I think the direct language applies also.