Editor’s Note: This post was written by Nicholas Pozzi.
A problem with the current presidential nomination and general election process is the ability of the system to ensure that every state has a meaningful say in selecting the next president. In the general election, swing states receive the most attention from candidates and their electoral votes decide the election. This gives them more say than their counterparts, who sometimes make up for their lack of impact in the general election during the primaries. However, the way that primaries are scheduled prevents nearly half of the states from having a decisive say in either contest.
When observing who wins a presidential nomination there is a 50-75 rule; this states that the candidate who is leading in the delegate count by the time 50% of the delegates are awarded will typically win enough delegates to clinch the nomination by the time 75% of the delegates are pledged (2016 has proven to be a notable exception). As a result, the states that hold their primaries after the 75% threshold essentially only cast symbolic votes, since the nomination is already decided. This gives the voters in these states no real say in their party’s nominee. Although the voters in the states holding their contests between the 50% and 75% thresholds do have a say, their votes do not have as much of an impact as those cast before the 50% mark. The voters in the middle states essentially choose whether or not to confirm the decision of previous states. Even if these voters opt to support another candidate, there is normally only one viable alternative, whereas states going before the 50% threshold usually have more alternatives to choose from. This cycle, when rounding to the nearest percent, 26 Democratic and 21 Republican states’ nomination contests occur after the 50% mark, while 10 states hold contests for both parties after the 75% threshold. Effectively, about half of the states would be excluded from making decisive decisions in this year’s election under the 50-75 rule.
Adding to the representational problem posed by the 50-75 rule is the fact that most of the states that hold their elections after the 50% mark are solid, not swing, states. In 2016, Indiana is the only swing state to hold both of its primary elections after the 50% threshold. As a result, swing states, in general, have double influence in the presidential process because they have a major say in both the primary contests and general elections. Meanwhile, many solid states are lacking influence in both contests. This results in minority party voters of solid states being effectively excluded from the presidential election.
Therefore, I propose that states hold their primaries/caucuses in order of the least to most competitive states in the general election. This way, voters in the minority parties in the least competitive states would have a chance to influence the presidential nomination process because they would cast their ballot when their vote is most influential in the primaries. To determine the order that states would hold their contests, the party that each state’s electoral votes went to would be recorded for the past three presidential elections. Then the difference in the percentage of the popular vote between the Republican and Democratic candidates for each election year would be collected and averaged. The states would then be arranged in order from greatest to least average difference and into four tiers: 1) 20.00% and greater; 2) between 19.99% and 11.00%; 3) 10.99% and less. The fourth tier would be made up of states that have not supported the same party in all three elections and are considered swing states. These states have the most influence on the general election and would automatically go last in the nomination process in order to offset this influence.
Next, the states would then be sorted within each tier by population from greatest to least in order to compensate for the small state bias that the Electoral College creates in the general election and the vote per delegate advantage that smaller states have in primaries. Within each tier’s window of time, the states would be required to hold their primaries in this order and could not leapfrog a state in front of them. However, with the permission of the state in front of them, a state may schedule their primary on the same day as that state, allowing states to voluntarily form a “Super Tuesday.” Tier 1 would be held from early February to early March, Tier 2 from early March to early April, Tier 3 from early April to early May, and Tier 4 from early May to early June.
The period from early January to early February is reserved for four carve-out states, with one coming from each of the four macro-regions of the U.S.: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West, with both parties being represented by two solid states. The least competitive state in each region will fall in this carve-out window, with the condition that two states must be solidly Republican and two must be solidly Democratic (if all least competitive states within the four regions are solidly for one party, then the two states that are more competitive would be dropped in favor of the two least competitive states favoring the other party). These states would hold their contests in order of greatest to least average difference in popular vote. The reason I keep carve out states in my plan is because they would guarantee that all four regions are represented early in the process.
The 2016 Schedule, as determined under the Competitiveness Plan:
|Carveout||Utah, Oklahoma, Vermont, Illinois|
|Tier 1||Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Alaska, Wyoming|
|Tier 2||California, New Jersey, Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Connecticut, Mississippi, Arkansas, Maine, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota|
|Tier 3||Pennsylvania, Georgia,Michigan, Arizona, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire|
|Tier 4||Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, Florida|