(I will read all comments, gratefully—as I have done over the last two weeks, and I appreciate the feedback. As always, please keep in mind that A More Perfect Constitution is not intended to be the end of the argument, but the beginning. Any Constitutional changes must be considered in the most careful and deliberative manner, and most amendments--and certainly a Constitutional Convention--might well be a generation away. It would be wonderful if those of you with comments and further ideas for change could register them at www.amoreperfectconstitution.com. Add your '24th Proposal' to the 23 offered in the book. Actually, you can add another 23 if you wish!
I also invite those who will be in Washington, D.C. next Friday, October 19, 2007 to join us for the "National Constitutional Convention" to be held at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue. Among our speakers for the day are Donna Brazile, Geraldine Ferraro, Sarah Weddington, Nadine Strossen, Bob Dole and Justice Samuel Alito. The convention is free, but all attendees are asked to register in advance so we can get a lunch count. To register, please visit www.amoreperfectconstitution.com and click on the "National Constitutional Convention" icon at the bottom of the front page.
Thanks to Markos for the forum and sincere thanks to all participants. --Larry Sabato)
Woodrow Wilson suggested the government was subject to Darwinian evolutionary forces, and he was correct. Over many decades, the parties have evolved to meet the organizational needs of government. Along the way, though, the constitutionally ungoverned parties have also changed to serve their own needs better--and some of those selfish purposes have begun to override those of the citizenry's.
Political parties are and have always been state-based, because there are no federal constitutional guidelines and strictures on them. The state party committees, in conjunction with the state legislatures, actually set many of the rules for presidential selection, such as whether a primary or a caucus is held in a particular state, and how those events are actually run. With no one at the national level truly in charge, the fifty state political parties on each side (Democratic and Republican) squabble among themselves, initiating internecine battles over the order of presidential selection every four years. Sometimes, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in some states cannot even agree on a common date for the primary or caucus, so the voters in those states are treated to two separate nomination campaigns within the span of a few weeks or months. In doing so, the state parties promote and serve individual state or party interests over the national interest.
The federal Constitution has been preeminent over the state constitutions since the days of Chief Justice John Marshall, but not so among the political parties, which live in a no-man's-land--a Wild, Wild West--in law and practice: nationally organized but state-based, fundamentally private associations of like-minded people yet groups with vital public functions (such as the nomination of our highest elected officials). Darwinian evolution is fine for the origin of species, but it is past time for the necessary political institutions called parties to be governed by some sort of federal intelligent design. Only the Constitution can achieve this aim. If any ongoing disaster can prove the point, surely it is the quadrennial orgy of the presidential primary process.
In 1968 there were fifteen presidential primaries, a manageable number spread out over about three months, from March until June. The voters could focus on their task, and often there was enough time between primaries (a couple of weeks or so) for midcourse corrections in the selection of a party nominee, that is, enough time between contests for the momentum of the first primary winner to die down so that voters in the next state could take a fresh look at the contenders. In 2008, forty-three state presidential primaries are crammed into a 2-month span at the time of this writing.
To make matters worse, in a phenomenon called front-loading, a majority of the states are rushing to the start of the calendar, in order to maximize their impact on the choice of the party nominees. The financial and other benefits are great in securing one of the early spots. The problem here is that the states are now bunched together so tightly that the winner of the first primary or caucus often wins the second, and the third, and the entire nomination simply because of the big momentum generated off the first victory. Some call it a "steamroller," others a "slingshot," but the effect is clear: a lightning-quick nomination of that initial victor.
The Congress should be constitutionally required to designate four regions of contiguous states (with contiguity waved for Alaska and Hawaii, and any other stray territories that may one day become states), with the boundaries of each region determined by the present state boundaries. All of the states in each region would hold their nominating events in successive months, beginning in April and ending in July. The two major-party conventions would follow in August. This schedule, all by itself, would cut three months off the too-long process currently prevailing in presidential years.
But how would the order of the regions be determined? In many cases, there would still be a bonus in going first. The establishment of a U.S. Election Lottery, to be held on New Year's Day of the presidential election year, would yield fairness and also add an element of drama to the beginning of a presidential year. Four color-coded balls, each representing one of the regions, would be loaded into a typical lottery machine, and in short order—the length of a ten-second lottery TV drawing—the regional primary order would be set. Since none of the candidates would know in advance where the political season would begin, part of the permanent presidential campaign would be dismantled.
One additional facet should be added to the plan in order to enhance its effectiveness. The best argument made for Iowa and New Hampshire is that their small populations allow for highly personalized campaigning. The candidates are able to meet individual citizens for lengthy and sometimes repeated conversations about the issues, and these voters are able to size up potential presidents at eye level, without the candidates having the protection of the usual large retinue of image makers and staffers. In that sense, lightly populated states can serve as a useful screening committee for the rest of us.
There is a way to combine the advantages of small-state scrutiny of candidates with the inherent fairness of round-robin regional primaries. We can achieve the best of both worlds by adding a second lottery on January 1. The names of all states with four or fewer members in the U.S. House of Representatives (at present, twenty states) would be placed in a lottery machine, and two balls would be selected. The District of Columbia should be included, and this would mean twenty-one jurisdictions would have a chance to be selected in the second lottery.
In sum, this Regional Lottery Plan would achieve many good things simultaneously for a selection process that currently makes little sense. The election campaign would be shortened and focused, a relief to both candidates and voters. All regions and states would get an opportunity to have a substantial impact on the making of the presidential nominees. A rational, nicely arranged schedule would build excitement and citizen involvement in every corner of the country, without sacrificing the personalized scrutiny of candidates for which Iowa and New Hampshire have become justly known. And all of this can only come about by putting the politics of nominations and elections in its proper place—the United States Constitution.
(Footnote by kos: An intro to this project can be found here. Larry discusses his proposal for new warmaking powers here. He'll be discussing other proposals from his book in the coming weeks. No money or other consideration has exchanged hands to get these pieces promoted to the front page.)
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