California Primary Aftermath — One Week Later

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I continue to marvel at this, the most interesting election cycle in my half-century of personal memory. Turn-outs continue heavy in both parties. If Democracy’s most dangerous enemy is apathy, then our Democracy is healthier today than at anytime I can remember.

The earlier California primary, as part of Super Tuesday, no doubt helped increase turnout here. For at least the last five or six cycles, the candidates had already been crowned by the time California voted. I’ve always voted anyway, but it’s more tempting to be ornery with one’s vote when the contest has already been settled. I don’t think a national primary is the answer. Success for a candidate like Mike Huckabee (or on the other side, a Bill Richardson or Dennis Kucinich, if one of them had lit a fire) is only possible when the opening rounds of the cycle can be contested without the massive amounts of money that would be required for a national campaign. I like the first primaries to be in very small states—not necessarily Iowa and New Hampshire—but states where a lesser-known and poorly funded candidate can invest time and meet thousands of voters in less scripted environments.

Money will always be a factor in politics, as will media favoritism. Somehow, our system must include Iowa/New Hampshire style contests early in the cycle, where real voters can sit down and study the candidates up close. Perhaps this responsibility should be distributed by lottery to other small, compact states.

This year, more states have moved away from winner-take-all primaries and to proportional awarding of delegates. That improves the chances of the people’s preferences actually being heard.

If there’s another change I’d like to see, I’m not convinced that a caucus system serves as well as a secret ballot, and I know our current ballots don’t serve as well as an Australian-style ballot. Let’s say, for example, I’m a California Republican and of the original handful of candidates, the field has been narrowed to four (Huckabee, McCain, Romney, and Paul). On an Australian ballot, I can indicate that my 1st choice is Huckabee, 2nd is McCain, and 3rd I might even have put Sam Brownback, who had already dropped out, but who earned my support through long years of leading the campaign against legalized abortion. In counting those votes, in my congressional district, it would be recorded that 16.3 % of the voters made Huckabee their first choice. However, since that ranked him in third place, each of those ballots would then be retabulated according to the voters’ second choices. In my case, I had already guessed that Huckabee was not a contender in my district. Therefore, I voted for my 2nd choice as my only choice. In the end, my district was still one of only two that Romney took from McCain (36.1 % to 35.7 %, a mere 216 votes), but McCain did well enough elsewhere to become the presumptive candidate, and Huckabee did well enough to be the last challenger standing. (Ironically, having run a low budget campaign from the beginning, Huckabee was ready to carry on when the burn-rate got too expensive for the high-budget campaigns.)

So I’m feeling pretty good about our Democracy these days. At this time last year, the money and the media were telling us that Clinton and Giuliani would have it all sewed up by this time, unless Romney’s personal fortune gave him traction against Giuliani. However, the voters in each party have decided to take things into their own hands. I can understand the states with later primaries feeling resentful that the decisions may have been made before they get to vote (though the Clinton/Obama race looks like it will go to the wire). As a Californian, I’ve felt that way often. Perhaps we need a lottery system that apportions the fifty-some primaries at two-to-ten per week over a ten-week period of time.

I am also feeling very good about my choices for November. At this point, I would like to see a McCain/Huckabee ticket. It can even be in that order. Good men, both of them.


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