Fair Vote has sketched a proposal to reform the US presidential nomination system. It is meant to be a “best of both worlds” proposal, with state-level contests early in the process, culminating in a runoff among the finalists on a single day nationally.
Following is their synopsis, but as the bloggers’ union requires me to say, read the whole thing.
The entire political universe, from the heights of the Washington establishment to the depths of the grassroots, agrees that our presidential nominating process needs to be reformed. But while there is broad consensus that a problem exists, there are myriad diagnoses as to what actually needs fixing. As the parties begin internal and interparty discussions about what elements need tweaking, it‘s time to take a serious look at more extensive and comprehensive reforms that will truly fix the process. The parties should begin to debate a plan that includes traditional state-based nomination contests culminating in a final, decisive national primary.
I am not going to comment, for now, on the substance of the proposal. However, I am going to single out seemingly small item for criticism:
More specifically, we like the idea of making that primary a set day in early June – perhaps the first Tuesday, or, more daringly, the first Saturday.
OK, but why Saturday? Please don’t be so “daring”! Expect (and deserve) lots of push back on that idea form the Jewish community, if the proposal becomes “serious.” Why not Sunday? Yes, I know that is a rather important day of the week to a rather larger segment of the population than us Jews. But most Christians do not have anything like the restrictions on Sunday activities that observant Jews have on Saturdays. Presumably that is why most of the world’s Christian-majority countries regularly vote on Sunday. We should do so, too.
Steven Taylor, writing in the Press-Register, asks whether it was, in retrospect, a mistake for the Alabama legislature to have advanced the date of this year’s presidential primary. His conclusion is similar to mine with respect to California (and he kindly cites a planting here on that question).
Steven’s argument in favor of the ‘Super Tuesday’ primary points out that the Republican race was still very much in flux at the time, whereas mine concerned only the Democratic race, where proportional representation really meant every vote counted, and even more so (I argued) when cast early to help shape the race.
Republicans, on the other hand, are quite content to simply throw out a lot of votes. Alabama was quite a case in point, with Hucakbee getting nearly all the delegates despite beating McCain only 41%-37%. Republicans had a number of such early outcomes (South Carolina and Missouri, both ‘won’ narrowly by McCain, were even more egregious). If you would rather have your vote thrown out in February than in June, if you happened not to side with the one-third (or so) minority of your state that favored the candidate with the most votes, then, yes, it was also good for Republicans to vote early.
I would add that Oklahoma, another state with a large indigenous population, was one of the early states where Obama most over-performed his late polling estimate (from a limited number of polls). See the graph.
Although Obama lost Oklahoma by a big margin, he outperformed his polls substantially.
We may be well past the point at which this contest can produce surprises, but maybe Obama will surprise in South Dakota, a state with 10% indigenous (and very little polling).
Montana’s delegate allocations are a little funky, with the state divided up into two pseudo-CDs based on Montana’s old congressional districts from the 1980s (it has just one now). Each district has five delegates…
Given the vast territory, this actually makes sense. Or at least it would if delegate candidates themselves actually did the campaigning.
Also relevant today: The South Dakota projection, and the attendant tricky demographics (all the trickier because exit polling has not asked about indigenous people’s preferences, even in other states where they are a substantial minority).
California holds its primary election this Tuesday. But, wait, didn’t we do that already? Yes, and no. For what I think is the first time in state history, our presidential and legislative primaries are on separate dates.1 We had the presidential primary on ‘Super Tuesday’ (5 February). Legislative and many local races are 3 June.
With no US Senate race this year, and this not being an election year for statewide constitutional offices, primaries will be held only for congressional, state-legislative, and other sub-state entities. This is evidently also unprecedented.
Turnout will be low. Really low. And, of course, this being California, there are statewide ballot measures being voted on,2 allowing a potentially unrepresentative sample of the state electorate to make public policy for all the state’s residents.
Inevitably, the separate dates and the expected low turnout for this election have led to lots of “what ifs.” That is, what if California had kept its usual June primary for presidential nominating delegates? With the Democratic race having extended throughout the whole primary season, imagine the impact California would have had!
How much impact? Less than it actually had.
The “what if” scenario–which I have heard or read numerous pundits state–rests on the assumption that there would have been frantic competition between Clinton and Obama for such a BIG PRIZE at the end. The problem with this claim is that it rests on an implicit winner-take-all logic, as well as on the notion that only the “decisive” votes count.3 Sure, if California used winner-take-all, and no other state did, and we had this close race… Then it would be quite a prize indeed. But with the proportional allocation of delegates–the only democratic way to do it4–a contest this late would have had much less impact than it had back in February.
When we went to vote in February, we genuinely did not know the outcome of the contest. With 370 delegates at stake, and 81 of them decided statewide, about every 1.2% of the vote for a candidate meant another statewide delegate, and local swings between the candidates also would shift some number of the district delegates between the candidates (depending on magnitude of the district and how much of a local swing).
Now the race is over, and it has been (effectively) over for some time. The pledged delegate count (after the Florida/Michigan adjustment), according to Real Clear Politics, stands at:
Without California, it would be
A deficit for Clinton of 154 rather than the actual 116.
Chances are she would have done no better in California in June that she did in February. In fact, I suspect she would lose if we were voting this week. Suppose the result of the two candidate race (55%-45%) were to be reversed–probably an unrealistically large swing relative to the real result. Obama would pick up 38 delegates at her expense. We would be at 1774 to 1582. Not exactly race-altering. Of course, if we add in the ex-oficio delegates under the assumption they would have been declaring at the same rate and same proportions even if California had not voted yet, then we probably would be looking at a clinch for Obama in California on 3 June.5 But, again, the notion that such a scenario implies more meaningful votes for Californians than the ones they actually cast in February rests on a dubious logic. It requires the belief that it is better to give a candidate the clinching delegate in a race that is clearly all but over than it is to have voted early when almost every vote counted in affecting the balance of delegates in a race that was just developing. The latter is certainly closer to the “every vote counts” democratic ideal. It certainly made me feel my own vote was more meaningful than if I had to wait till this week to weigh in at last.
Such practice is typical in some other states, especially those that routinely vote earlier in the presidential nominating cycle. [↩]
Two of them, both concerning eminent domain. We can’t ever seem to have just one measure per issue. I’ll do what many voters do when they don’t understand the issues and strongly suspect some organized interest is trying to pull one over on me: Vote no on both. [↩]
The same logic by which the closer makes more money than the set-up man. The ninth inning is clearly more important, right? [↩]
And, in any event, one state is not going to be allowed to deviate from the proportional rule applied elsewhere. And if most or all states used winner-take-all, the contest would have been over long ago [↩]
RCP shows him at 2065 as of today, and if he won 38 more in California than he actually did, he’d be 15 short. But with polls closing in South Dakota and Montana earlier on 3 June than in California, the Golden State would deliver the decisive vote. But the assumption on ‘supers’ is probably unrealistic. With the biggest state not having voted yet, it is likely that fewer of the unelected delegates would have declared by now. And if so, California still would not be decisive. [↩]
Poblano Nate notes an important distinction between cutting the Florida delegation in half vs. giving each delegate half a vote.
The distinction is in the way that the delegates are divided up in individual congressional districts. Take for example a district that Clinton won 70-30, and that originally had 4 delegates. If you do the multiplication, you get 2.8 fractional delegates for Clinton and 1.2 for Obama, which rounds up to a 3-1 delegate take for Clinton.
But now suppose that this district only has 2 delegates because Florida’s delegation has been cut in half. With her 70 percent of the vote, Clinton wins 1.4 fractional delegates, and Obama 0.6. However, Clinton’s number now rounds down to 1 delegate, whereas Obama’s rounds up to 1 delegate.
Of course, if the Democratic Party used D’Hondt like most proportional-representation systems, 70-30 would still give 3-1 in a 4-seat district, but 2-0 in a 2-seat district.1
I mean, how long can it take to print and distribute ballots in a state of just over one million registered voters and area of around 24,000 square miles? I know it is the Mountain State and all that, but still…
Edwards just might surpass Obama in a few WV counties today.
If you do not know FiveThirtyEight.com, I recommend you go have a look. I would nominate the site for inclusion on any short list of best blogs analyzing the presidential race. Check out today’s put-in-perspective post on West Virginia for just one very valuable example.
Earlier today, someone sent me the following item, and Phil at PolySigh also has noted it. It is one of those things that is just almost impossible to believe.
Clinton picked people for her team primarily for their loyalty to her, instead of their mastery of the game. That became abundantly clear in a strategy session last year, according to two people who were there. As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state’s 370 delegates. It sounded smart, but as every high school civics student now knows, Penn was wrong: Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner-take-all. Sitting nearby, veteran Democratic insider Harold M. Ickes, who had helped write those rules, was horrified â€” and let Penn know it. “How can it possibly be,” Ickes asked, “that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn’t understand proportional allocation?”
Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat (and pro-Clinton delegate) of Florida, speaking today before his state’s legislature:
A year ago, you passed a bill to move Florida’s presidential primary to an early date on the national election calendar. Your thinking was to give our large and diverse state â€“ a microcosm of America – more of a say in the selection of the presidential nominees.
And we all know what happened: Both national parties decided to punish Florida, because their rules reserved early presidential contests to a handful of other states.
Having failed to get an agreement on a mail-in re-vote, he is now proposing that his party:
divvy up the equivalent of half of Florida’s delegates from the Jan. 29 results. This is allowed by the Democratic rules and was done by the GOP.1
But he is thinking bigger:
If nothing else, this election has provided further evidence that our system is broken…
Last fall, I filed legislation in the U.S. Senate requiring that no vote for federal office be cast on a touch-screen voting machine starting in 2012. I also joined the senior senator from Michigan, Carl Levin, to propose a system of six rotating primaries from March to June in each presidential election year.
And very soon I will file a broader-based election-reform bill.
This new legislation will abolish the Electoral College and give citizens direct election of their president by popular vote. Additionally, six, rotating interregional primaries2 will give large and small states a fair say in the nomination process. The legislation will establish early voting in every state. It will eliminate machines that donâ€™t produce a voting paper trail. It will allow every qualified voter in every state to cast an absentee ballot, if they want. And it will give grants to states that develop mail-in balloting and secure Internet voting.
Naturally, that was me emphasizing the most important part. It has been a while since a Senator has raised this issue. It is about time.
Yet the more promising path than a bill in Congress (which, for the electoral college, would have to be a constitutional amendment) is one on which he missed an opportunity today: advocating that this own state’s legislature join the National Popular Vote compact.
This seems like a reasonable idea to me, even as an Obama supporter, and even coming from a Clinton delegate. But what about Michigan? There, unlike Florida, Obama (and let’s not forget Edwards) were not on the ballot, and the turnout was minuscule. [↩]
So, the rules can be changed in the midst of the nominating contest, after all.
The Democratic Party on Monday approved Puerto Rico’s proposal to scrap its caucus and hold a presidential primary on June 1.
A primary will give more voters a chance to take part in the nominating process, said Puerto Rico Democratic Chairman Roberto Prats…
Puerto Rico will have 55 delegates at stake in its primary, and will award them proportionally.
Fifty five delegates is one more than South Carolina and two fewer than Iowa. I wonder how the number is chosen, given that the formula in states (and the District of Columbia) takes into account the state’s tendency to vote Democratic in the general election. Puerto Rico, of course, does not vote in general elections for President.
So, after about 95% of the elected delegates have been allocated, a territory that is not technically part of the United States gets to change its rules so as to give more of its voters a theoretical chance of determining a presidential candidate that they would have no right to vote for.
By popular demand, this is hereby declared an open hole for planting on the Democratic (or Republican) primary/caucus/convention procedures.
I have been wanting to write something for a while, but burdens of work and back pain that force me to minimize time in the chair have kept me from it.
So, plant away. The only ground rule (get it?) is that this should be focused only on the rules and possible improvements, and not on the candidates, per se. The Florida and Michigan debacles, and what to do about them, are also fair game.
You probably thought the race for California’s delegates to the Democratic Party nominating convention had been settled some time ago, right? Well, no. Obama has narrowed Clinton’s lead in the state in such a way as to make up most of the ground he (appears to have) lost in the “bad day” in Ohio and Texas. 1
A California politics blogger has argued that Sen. Clinton won 36 more pledged delegates in the state than Sen. Obama, rather than the 44-delegate margin that has long been included in the news organizationsâ€™ tallies. A spokesman for the state party confirms the bloggerâ€™s numbers.
The shift, if validated once the state certifies its election results this week and the party chooses its delegates, is a reminder that the commonly reported delegate totals are mere estimates, subject to change as states finalize election results. It also highlights how a blogger with intense focus on the numbers may be faster than the established delegate counters.
There was one district (#16) that has 4 delegates and in which Clinton came up 58 votes short of enough to win 3. In #53 (down my way, but not the one I live in), the final count changed a small plurality for Clinton into a small plurality for Obama. Given that the district has an odd number (3) that swung a delegate.
n the 50the district (which covers coastal parts of the city of San Diego), Clinton won the delegate count, 3-2, but a comment at another of Dayen’s posts said (but I have not confirmed) that her margin over Obama that was less than the votes won by Kucinich.
And it was not only at the district level where results have shifted in the updated counts. The statewide popular-vote margin has narrowed rather substantially, from the initially reported 10 percentage points to 8.7, and that has cut Clinton’s lead in the statewide elected delegates from 13 to 11.
The current, but still unofficial result, is Clinton 203, Obama 167.2
We are talking about small numbers of delegates (and votes) here, but this is one of those races in which small numbers may matter!
Which was not so bad, really. I have seen estimates that show a quite close split of Ohio’s delegates, and a small lead for Obama in the “Texas Two-Step.” [↩]
And, of course, the state has a lot of bionics. Sixty five of th “super” delegates, in fact. Currently, 29 are with Clinton and only 13 Obama. But 23 remain uncommitted. [↩]
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4