New Jersey's state senate on June 24 voted to join the growing list of states ready to shift their primary date earlier in the election cycle. The proposal would reschedule New Jersey's primary to the last Tuesday in February, a move designed to increase the state's influence in presidential elections. Gov. Richard Codey is expected to sign the legislation.
New Jersey is not alone in seeking to establish an earlier presidential primary. In response to recent presidential elections effectively being decided within the first three weeks of the primary season, a number of states have either advanced their primary date or are seriously considering do so.
“New Jersey's effort may work out for New Jersey,”ï¿½ said FairVote's executive director Rob Richie. “But it's only further indication of why the national parties need to act to develop a primary process that is good for all states. A flood of primaries after Iowa and New Hampshire only drowns out the voices of most Americans — and allows no time to give a potential nominee the kind of long, sustained look that is good for parties and our democracy.”ï¿½
Richie said there is a better way: the American Plan developed by political scholar Thomas Gangale. On June 25th, the Californian Young Democrats voted unanimously to endorse the American Plan. Like New Jersey, California is routinely left out of the important task of nominating presidential candidates on account of its primary date.
“The Californian Young Democrats are onto something important,”ï¿½ said Chris Pearson, director of FairVote's Presidential Elections Reform project. “The American Plan would routinely give all states a real chance to have an impact on the nomination of the major party candidates without rushing the process.”ï¿½
The American Plan takes into account the interests of both large and small states. It uses ten intervals two weeks apart with a gradual increase in the size of states that participate at each step:
- The first round, includes any state or combination of states with a total of 8 Congressional seats, in keeping with the early small-state tradition of Iowa and New Hampshire where dark horse candidates can have a chance to gain footing.
- The second round would be in a state or combination of states with a total of 16 seats — with states again determined at random and changing every four years.
- Each interval would gradually increase the total population of the states voting, with the fourth round substituting a large population total in order to give large states a chance to be part of that round.
- Although the final states would come late in the process, they would have the most delegates, and with the gap between primaries, candidates could recover from a weak start if they emerged as a party's best candidate over the whole primary season.
“The current system gives far too much power to the same states again and again,”ï¿½ said Richie. “The American Plan would give major party voters a far more equal chance to vote in a meaningful primary.”ï¿½
“Unlike many needed electoral reforms, parties can act to put in the American Plan right now,”ï¿½ said Pearson. In 2000, the Republican Party in fact nearly adopted a similar graduated primary system called the “Delaware Plan”ï¿½ - - with the main difference being that the identity of the states would be the same every year, and the big states like California would always vote in the last round of primaries. The National Association of Secretaries of State also is on record in support of a system that would have regional primaries rotated every presidential cycle. This year the Democratic National Committee has established a commission to propose changes to its primary calendar.
FairVote — The Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that promotes free and fair elections in the United States. Its chairman is 1980 independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson. To seek comment on these issues contact Ryan O'Donnell, Communications Director at (301) 270-4616 or [email protected]