Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Fix for Our "Broken" Primary System Has Already Been Implemented

There is still much wailing in the press about our "dysfunctional" primary process, accompanied by calls to reform the system. These can be considered of a piece with the every-four-years calls to junk the Electoral College and elect our president by direct popular vote.

Such calls indicate a widespread misunderstanding of the nature of our federal system, born out of the increasing homogenization and nationalization of our culture, politics and institutions. They also indicate a failure on the part of just about everyone to realize that the reforms needed to make the system work have already been implemented, and are working exactly as designed in this first year since 1952 when there is truly a wide-open contest for the Presidency.

They can be found in the way the Democratic Party has chosen to allocate delegates to its national convention.

In case you haven't noticed, the two contenders for the Democratic nomination have delegate count totals that roughly reflect their level of support among the Democratic electorate both as a whole and in each state. That's because the party awards elected delegates based on each candidate's vote totals in each Congressional district, with the district winner getting the majority and the statewide winner getting bonus delegates.

As a result, in this open contest, every Democratic primary vote cast has mattered, and from the looks of it, every vote will continue to matter right through the Pennsylvania primary near the tail end of the primary season.

Isn't that what everyone was complaining about? About the only thing further we could do to ensure this result is to prohibit incumbency -- even to the point where the sitting Vice President would be ineligible to run for President, absurd though that may sound.

I should note that a similar approach to allocating Electoral College votes has also been adopted in at least two states, Nebraska and Maine. Those states award their House electors to the winner in each Congressional district and their Senate electors to the statewide winner. Once again, the process strikes just about the right balance between representing the popular will and the will of the states, which is what our federal system was designed to do.


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