Saturday, August 30, 2008

More Thoughts on Penalties to Prevent Frontloading

**Note: This continues a discussion begun yesterday and continued in the comments section today. For a refresher or for the starting point follow this link.

I think discussions like the one here and the ones we've had in this space over the last weeks and months are constructive. For better or worse though, I'm one of those devil's advocate types. So I'm not trying to tear down any reform ideas so much as point out the obstacles those reforms may face.

Having said that, let's look at what everyone has brought to the fore this morning -- some interesting concepts, by the way.

Let's look first at the financial situation. The national party funding regimes that both Allen and Russ describe have one drawback that I can see: the discrepancy between the money either parties have on hand at any given moment. The DNC during this cycle -- and typically during most cycles -- has far less cash on hand than the RNC. That has implications for the effectiveness with which each party is able to implement a similar system.

This check-off system that Scott envisions is one way to get around that issue though. But again, we're talking about the difference between the national government and the national parties dealing with this.

Rob mentions the candidates "caving" and seating delegates anyway. I don't know that caving is the appropriate word to describe what is happening there. But it isn't any less of a problem. The act of (re)seating those delegates is a nod to the idea that unnecessarily preventing those delegates from participating -- especially when they are not consequential to the outcome of the nomination -- is just manufacturing divisiveness in the party. No one seeking the highest office in the land wants any divisiveness during the unfiltered PR blitz that is a convention.

But this gets at the dual nature of the delegate system. Delegates offer diminishing returns over the course of an election year. They are consequential to the point that the nomination is decided, but after that point, they really aren't of any consequence. Then penalty, then, if it is to include delegates, has to in some way wedge itself into that early period. But the penalties in 2008 (and 2012, it looks like) did that, but the penalty loses its bite if the nominee decides to seat those delegates. Yeah, back to that vicious cycle.

We really need to check into whether Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Wyoming will have half delegations in St. Paul this week, or whether McCain has opted to waive that penalty.

Let me raise one more issue that has yet to be brought up in any of our discussions. This was a factor that I found in my masters thesis and subsequent conference paper really affected a state's ability to frontload its primary. It has implications in our discussion here as well. Some states, California, Texas and Maryland, to name a few, have laws on the books that require primaries for president and primaries for state and local offices to be held simultaneously. Changing those laws and splitting those contests up cost money. Yes, that's not that big a deal if the national party or the federal government is picking up the tab, but it does raise another potential complication. What id the GOP wants the Maryland primary to go in May while the Democrats would rather hold the Maryland primary in March. First, that would deprive Maryland of the option of holding its state and local primaries at the same time as the presidential primary. Secondly, this is creating another election that Maryland wouldn't have to pay for but would have to administer. That puts a strain on state and local boards of elections to deal with that, adding some potential messiness to the process.

Now, I'll concede that Maryland could opt to hold the Republican primaries with the Republican presidential primary and likewise with the Democrats. That gives a jump start to one party's congressional candidate, for example, at the expense of the other party's. And if the advantaged candidate is an incumbent, that increases an already significant advantage they hold. Well, just hold the state and local primaries together at a time different from the presidential primaries; it won't cost any extra if the national party or national government is paying for the presidential election.

This looks like a minor problem from the national perspective, but at the state level could serve as a point of contention. The people making the decisions on this are the members of the state legislature, and their electoral fortunes are tied to the decision to some degree. Holding the contests -- presidential primaries and state and local primaries -- simultaneously increases turnout. Now, it is certainly debatable whether these guys want high turnout or not, but debated it would be.

Note: I'm going to try and get this revised Barr/Nader post up later today. Also, I've added a question to that, that I'd like some feedback on. If you have a chance, check in later and weigh in. Tangentially, it will have implications for the electoral college projections.

Recent Posts:
If Taking Away Delegates Won't Stop Frontloading, What Will?

Who's McCain Going to Pick? Why, Sarah Palin, of course.

Obama is the J.K. Rowling of Politics?


Robert said...

Looks like I got slammed twice last go around, once for saying that Obama caved and then for calling Josh a pessimist when he is really a realist.

On the caving first, there are at least two sides of the delegate situation. First is the impact on the nomination. Obviously, the early states become the eliminators and choose the few candidates who will be survivors. MI and FL learned the lesson the hard way. In an attempt to be the deciders, they lost any input on deciding the Democratic nomination. Despite all of the hoopla that with their votes Hillary would have won the nomination, five-thirty eight did an excellent analysis earlier suggesting that Barack would have done quite well in those primaries if they had been contested. On the Republican side I would argue that MI narrowed the field down to Romney and McCain and that FL was the key state in nominating McCain. For the GOP, FL and MI were rewarded for going early and Republicans in those states will be reluctant to give up the influence that frontloading bought them in the process.

The other part of the delegate situation is actual participation at the national convention. Having a say in the platform, party rules or even attending the important speeches and other events is all involved here. Allen is right that Obama did not cave on what is important to political junkies like us, but he did cave on what could be a lifetime experience for those lucky enough to be elected and seated. That is where he caved. Not caving here would provide a strong punishment to regular delegates and superdelegates and could influence Democrats in the state legislature to try to reverse frontloading. Not caving, however could affect Obama's ability to carry MI and FL and could conceivably cost him the election, particularly if the party prevents him from carrying MI.

Allen said earlier that

"I think taking away the delegate would work, but the discretion needs to be taking out of the picture. Early voting = 0 delegates, no exceptions, no appeals, no discretion."

It seems to me that Allen's point applies to both aspects of the delegate situation. I don't see how you could make a rule like this that could not be overturned by the convention unless it became a law.

I have been optimistic that a primary system that will allow for several primaries across the country, like the Ohio plan or other regional systems, would be developed. The realist Josh Putnam has ground me down to become pessimistic that nothing short of a national primary will emerge to replace frontloading -- a disaster that I hope does not happen until after I am gone!

Unknown said...

Do y'all think that new voting systems will soon modify this equation?

What I'm thinking is that if we get to the point where internet voting is feasible, then how much does it cost to administer an election? And if it doesn't cost much, then some of the problems were discussing go away. The national party is no longer dependent on the states to run the elections. (Yes, the states still register voters and stuff like that, but at least in some states, once they're registered, that information becomes public.) So the national party can just run its own primary process how and when it wants.

The state parties would still decide some elements of the process if the national party allows it (e.g. delegate distribution rules), and the state government would still have control over registration.

I'm thinking something like that could be the solution by, say 2020.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for Allen, but I took exception to the use of the word cave, but I think what we are all talking about is basically the same. But you're right on the perception. It was perceived as a flip-flop and that in turn is perceived as a cave to some degree.

On pessimism vs. realism: I'd suspect a fair number of people would ask what the difference was between the two.

A national primary is inevitable unless Congress steps in in some way. I'm not too optimistic that that will happen though. Ha!

Robert said...


I would love to see an easier solution, BUT

1) how can we ensure Internet voting won't be rife with fraud and hacking?

2) won't Internet voting disenfranchise a large part of the population?

Anonymous said...

This is great point, Scott. I'm still surprised that internet voting has not been more prominent. I mean, Arizona's Democratic primary in 1996 was internet-based, and it really hasn't been done since. They are at APSA (American Political Science Association conference) now, but I'll have to put in a email to the guys at Election Updates. Alvarez and Hall may have some ideas on that. And it is a nice overlap in our respective research agendas.

Anonymous said...

See my link in the previous comment. Those guys wrote the book on internet voting...literally.

In fact, you'll see that Michael Alvarez has a post up now that shows their book on the shelves in Boston.

Unknown said...

And the short version:

ATM cards seem to be about as immune from fraud as current voting systems. Internet voting is not in principle more difficult.

Disenfranchisement is not a problem. Just make sure there is internet access at appropriate times in public places. In cities, almost all libraries already offer this; there might be some rural areas where mobile stations would have to be used. But still a lot cheaper than a traditional election.

Robert said...

Josh and Scott,

I am intrigued by the concept and am trying to wrap my mind around it. I will get a copy of the book and read it. You are getting my initial reactions.

The ATM analogy does not ease my worries. I know people who would carefully guard their ATM card because money is very important to them but might be willing to sell their voting card for say $50. I also know two people in their 50s who do all of their elderly parent's banking for them. I don't think either one would even consider voting for their parents, but I am not so sure about others with lower moral scruples.

Like I said earlier, I am open to the idea and have embraced the electronic voting system we have in Georgia. With the current system so controversial on the left for lack of a paper trail and concern that the Republicans and Diebold are in bed together coupled with the voter ID laws the Republicans have been pushing around the country, I confess to being either a pessimist or realist on this issue.