Friday, April 12, 2019

Let Math Fix Elections ...

(Note: I originally wrote this piece several years ago, but bumped it to the top when I read that the GOP is thinking of reconfiguring their primaries and convention.)

What if we really wanted to reform elections – How to do it?

The flaws in the current system are obvious to all – campaigns beginning right after the off-year elections, candidates who rarely stray from bullet-point sound-bites, massive amounts of money being raised and spent, and the all-too-common situation of one candidate's reaching a domination point before all of the states have had their say.

The desire for relevance has resulted in a furious jockeying for first primary. New Hampshire is pushing its primary as far back as it can to maintain its first-in-the-nation status, Iowa is following suit and California just moved its primary to February. It doesn't have to be this way and it shouldn't be this way.

I propose that there be 6 days of primary voting, arranged so that the delegate total doubles each time.

In order to simplify the numbers, I'll use Electoral college numbers as proxy for population or primary delegate numbers. It's not perfect, but it's a good start.

Primary Day I

Leave NH and Iowa first, voting at the end of February. They have been first for many years and are located in completely different parts of the country. They are also small. This small size gives all of the candidates an equal chance to get into a bus and criss-cross the two states meeting personally with as much of the electorate as possible. This sort of old-fashioned campaigning is essential at the beginning.

NH and IA are the first:
they winnow the candidates.
The media will, of course, follow and dutifully report on all of the wonderful stories, repeat all the sound bites and give valuable airtime to the candidates. Because only two states are in contention for the next three weeks or so, all of the candidate's attention is on a small number of voters and a small geographical area.
(Day 1: 2% of delegates committed)

After NH and Iowa have done their civic duties and winnowed the field somewhat, we have then three to four weeks before the next group of small states in mid-March.

Primary Day II

Wyoming, Vermont, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Delaware, D.C., and Alaska.
(Day 2 cumulative total: 6% of delegates committed)

After this second day of voting, the candidates have been analyzed, interviewed, tested under fire, suffered through elections, and hopefully taken a closer look at themselves and their campaigns and made realistic projections about their futures. These small contests harden the serious candidates and eliminate any truly weak ones. Group II states are all "relevant" in that they are the first real test, the first crucible of cross-country campaigning.

Viable candidates who are late-comers to the party won't suffer, though. There have only been some small elections. A candidate could declare in March and still have a realistic shot.

Primary Day III

Now its time (1st week in April) for Rhode Island, Maine, Idaho, Hawaii, West Virginia, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska. Some are blue states, some are red, some are coastal, others are interior states.
(Day 3 cumulative total: 14% of delegates committed)

Our goal now is to force the candidates to campaign to wider audiences. TV ads and news interviews have given the candidates plenty of exposure by now. People in the coming elections are seeing the results of earlier elections and starting to mobilize their parties.

At every step of the way, anyone could take over the lead regardless of the current totals. We're doubling down at every turn - at every stage someone can decide to become a candidate and can come in and sweep up enough delegates to take the lead.

First Interlude

The race is in full gallop. The early debates can happen now. With 18 days or so before the next round, the country has a perfect opportunity to see these candidates in debates and forums. Jim Lehrer can put them through their paces.

Primary Day IV - Super Tuesday

In the 3rd or 4th week of April, we have the first Super-Tuesday. Mississippi, Kansas, Arkansas, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Colorado, Alabama bring the delegate total from 14% to 29%.
(Day 4 cumulative total: 29% of delegates committed)

Primary Day V - Super Twosday

Two weeks later, the next Super Tuesday, somewhere near May 10th : Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Arizona, Washington, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
(Day 5 cumulative total: 50% of delegates committed)

Second Interlude

Candidates are now running around like crazy folk, but the primaries are coming with two-week "respites" that will allow everyone time to regroup and refocus on the next set of states.

Remember too, that even now only half of the delegates have been assigned – it's still anyone's race. Theoretically, a candidate could step in and sweep the next Super Tuesday and ride triumphantly to the party conventions in June.

Major candidates are now invited to the second round of debates. During these two weeks, the candidate debates can be held every four days or so. The League of Women Voters and other civic groups conduct debates, get-togethers, and candidate forums.

Primary Day VI

So here it is, the last Super Tuesday, in the week of May 24th … North Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, New York, Texas, California. These are the biggest states with the most voters, evenly split red state - blue state. Candidates still have the chance to "come from behind." They have been in the news for weeks and have had ample time to get out the vote in these big states, raise money, buy ads, and spend money.
(Day 6 cumulative total: 100% of delegates committed)

We've been doubling the totals every time to keep everyone relevant. We've kept the elections to six intense days, instead of scattershot across the five, six or seven months.

Every state matters because no candidate can get an insurmountable lead. Every vote counts because no one can be declared a winner until the end of May. Even the last set of states are relevant: without this group, no one can get over the top. Between Valentine's Day and Memorial Day, we've conducted our business, and can take the holiday weekend off.

We'll have earned it.