Monday, January 21, 2008


CQ has a great article up about efforts on the part of the RNC to reform the presidential nominating process (eg: to keep frontloading in check). Here's the thing: The Democrats were the party of change on this front starting with the radical changes to the system for the 1972 cycle and tweaking those changes into the mid-1980s. After Bill Clinton took office though, and on through the present, it has been the Republicans who have been the most active in trying to reform the frontloaded system.* Starting in the lead up to the 1996 convention there was talk of a delegate bonus incentive system to motivate states to position their delegate selection events later on the calendar (see Busch 2000).

When that plan didn't pass muster, the GOP again tried to cure what was perceived to ail the nominating system during the 2000 Republican convention. The Delaware plan, as it was/is called, would allow the small states to go first, nurturing the retail brand of politics that has been the hallmark of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary for decades and then let progressively larger states fall in behind them sequentially. Of course this rehashes the same sorts of issues that plagued the Founders when they were trying to conceive of an appropriate legislature for a nation in its infancy. The divisiveness of big states vs. little states plus the reality of getting the state legislatures and states parties to fall in line behind the plan gave pause to an image conscious party attempting to show unity behind its nominee.

The Delaware plan lives on however and has again come up in the RNC's discussion of reform ahead of the party's 2008 convention in St. Paul, MN. CQ describes that plan and the at least four others (that are on the table):

"• Modified Delaware Plan: The latest version of the proposal initially approved but then rejected by Republican officials in 2000, the Modified Delaware Plan is being spearheaded by Republican National Committeeman John Matlusky of Delaware.

This plan would divide the nation into four “pods” that are organized by population. The least-populous states would be placed in one pod and vote first, followed in series by the next more-populous states. Under this plan, voting events would begin later than they have in 2008 and other recent election cycles and would be spread out over a four-month period.

The Modified Delaware Plan would preserve the early-voting traditions of Iowa, which could hold its precinct caucuses as early as the last Tuesday in January (Jan. 31 in 2012), and New Hampshire, which could hold its kickoff primary as early as the first Tuesday in February (Feb. 7 in 2012).

The states in the first pod would then begin voting on the second Tuesday in February (Feb. 14 in 2012) and would consist of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maine and Idaho. Six other jurisdictions that are not states but elect convention delegates — the District of Columbia and the territories of American Samoa, Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas Islands — also would be included in this earliest grouping.

Ohio Plan: Promoted by Ohio Republican leader Bennett, who made a presentation Thursday, the Ohio Plan would create a pod of small-population states that would be permitted to vote first in every presidential election year. It differs from the Delaware Plan in that the Ohio Plan’s three other pods would be based on region and not scaled according to state size. These groupings — one of states in the Eastern and Midwestern United States, one encompassing the South and other covering the West — would have roughly similar allocations of electoral votes, and would rotate their order in the nominating process every four years.

The Ohio Plan would allow Iowa and New Hampshire to go before other states — and it also would extend that special exemption to Nevada and South Carolina, which the DNC included as early-voting states for the current 2008 campaign to lend greater geographic and racial diversity to the early-voting period. Those four states only would be allowed to hold a primary, caucus or convention before Feb. 1 in the presidential election year.

• Dingell-Anuzis Modified Plan: For those who follow politics in Michigan, the state that generated this plan, that name is not a misprint. It is a bipartisan effort promoted by Debbie Dingell, a prominent Michigan Democratic activist whose husband is veteran Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell , and Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

Debbie Dingell is a high-profile opponent of Iowa and New Hampshire’s primacy in the presidential selection process. The longstanding opposition among Michigan politicians to the overwhelming influence that Iowa and New Hampshire have long held over the presidential nominating process spurred a bipartisan agreement to hold the state’s 2008 primary on Jan. 15 — even though the move violated each major party’s scheduling rules setting Feb. 5 as the first date for most states’ contests, spurring the DNC to strip its Michigan affiliate of all its convention delegates and the RNC to penalize the Michigan GOP of half its delegates.

The Dingell-Anuzis plan is patterned after legislation sponsored in the U.S. House (HR 1523) by Michigan Democratic Rep. Sander F. Levin and in the U.S. Senate (S 2024) by Florida Democrat Bill Nelson . Democrats in Florida, who have gone along with a new state law setting its primary for Jan. 29 in violation of national party rules, also has been denied all of their national convention delegates by the DNC (while Florida Republicans similarly have lost half their delegates).

The Michigan-based plan would divide the nation into six regions, from which six “interregions” — made up of one or two states from each region — would be shaped. Each interregion would vote two or three weeks before the next interregion.

The Dingell-Anuzis plan would create a lottery 14 months before the presidential election to determine the voting order of the interregions. The same interregion could not go first in consecutive presidential elections.

Their plan also places Iowa and New Hampshire in their respective interregions and would not automatically permit them to vote early.

Modified NASS Plan: Sponsored by Republican National Committeeman Ron Schmidt of South Dakota, this is essentially the plan long promoted by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), the organization of state election officials. It divides the nation into four regions — the East, South, Midwest and West — and each region would be given an election date before which it could not vote (early in March, April, May or June). The region that votes first, in early March, would vote last in the next presidential election year, and the region that voted second, in early April, would then move up to first.

The major difference between Schmidt’s version and the NASS plan is that Schmidt’s does not allow Iowa and New Hampshire to vote first. The NASS version allows exemptions for Iowa and New Hampshire to keep voting earlier than the rest of the nation.

Texas Plan: This proposal, sponsored by Republican National Committeeman Bill Crocker of Texas, would divide the nation into four groups, with each drawing in a few contiguous states from one particular area of the nation and a few contiguous states from another area of the nation. One of Crocker’s groups, for example, would take in the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and also the Southern states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The states in the first group could hold binding nomination contests as early as Feb. 1, with the three subsequent groups to follow in early March, April and May. Like the NASS plan, Crocker’s proposal includes a provision that the group voting first in one presidential election year would vote last in the next election. This plan also would end the special privilege to go first that has long been accorded to Iowa and New Hampshire."

One plan not mentioned as being considered is Thomas Gangale's American plan (in PS, Jan. 2004). In that plan, the randomness of what's called the Dingell-Anuzis modified plan by the RNC plays some role, but the largest states have the possibility of being positioned as early as the fourth week of the process. So while the plan protects the smaller states from being completely ignored in the process, it doesn't automatically shunt the larger states to the back of the line. I've liked this plan since I first read it, but understand all the same that the American public may not go for what is essentially a lottery to determine which states go when. Simplicity seems to be what people want as there has been some support for the idea of a national primary through polls taken during this current cycle.

*This isn't to say that the Democrats have done nothing of late to reform the system. Some of the problems associated with frontloading find their root in the notion that Iowa and New Hampshire have too large a voice in the process. In answer to that the DNC included Nevada and South Carolina among the states exempt from sanctions attendant to positioning a delegate selection event ahead of the party's designated window (Feb. 5 is the earliest all non-exempt states were allowed to go during this cycle.). The reason they were included was to diversify the voices of the early states. That goal was accomplished but it also exacerbated the frontloading problem by bumping two states (and a group of states campaigned for two those spots given to South Carolina and Nevada in the summer of 2006) up in the process. Florida and Michigan were the two most notable states which took exception to this. So why is it that South Carolina and Nevada get a seat at the table occupied by just Iowa and New Hampshire previously and other states, which have their own issues to bring into the process get sanctioned for moving. That is the issue at stake for both parties as they eye 2012.


Robert said...

Great summary. I hope that one of these plans is adopted. I must admit, however, that the system is working much better this year than anyone could have ever believed going in to it.

Josh Putnam said...

As much as I'd like to see some reform from a selfish academic perspective, the system, as you said, has worked "much better this year than anyone could have ever believed." I think Americans take issue with Iowa and New Hampshire going first to some extent because of the perception of the runaway recklessness of collective state legislative action. What people have seen is that there are a bunch of states that have moved up and not the tit for tat process of movement over the course of three and a half years.

But because things have worked out the way they have this time around, reform will be less likely. What the CQ articles does is highlight the idea that the parties can do what they want but they still have to deal with state legislatures.

Let's say the GOP passes one of these plans. Then, somehow, a Republican wins in November. Well, states with Democratic majorities in the state legislature are still going to be motivated to move up and have some influence on who the party's nominee is. Are those GOP rules going to make any difference? No, not unless the DNC passes something similar. And that's the problem with reform: it will ultimately become an issue of states' rights.

And that opens up a whole other can of worms.

Robert said...

Well said. I concur. On the other hand, if Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania end up deciding one or both of the nominees, there may be a rush to Backloading.

Josh Putnam said...

Yeah, but that's trickier for a state legislature. Moving earlier is an easy concept (possibly hard to pull off). Guessing where that breaking point (when the nominee is essentially decided) is from one cycle to the next is not.

I hesitate to say this for fear of being wrong, but 2008 will end up being a unique election (in a lot of ways) and it may be that the system returns to the Super Tuesday model in subsequent years. Meanwhile, those of us who follow these things wait impatiently for another "2008 election."

I should note that this year may not deviate too much from that Super Tuesday model. It may be that we come out of February 5 knowing who the nominees for both parties are. However, this time we've seen more signs than in recent years that the race could actually stretch beyond that point.

Robert said...

I concur, but I think that at least one race will go into March or beyond.