January 25, 2008

Primary frontloading pays off

Racing toward February 5, it has become increasingly clear that for the first time since 1988 we have a primary election where neither nomination has been decided before the “Super Tuesday” states have voted. At this point, it’s even money on who will take the Democratic Party’s nomination. On the other side, the Republican race is at best a two-way tie. While the lunacy of states competing to hold the first or the most important contest was laughed at by many in the media and public, this writer included, in its own crazy way, frontloading the primaries has actually achieved a worthy goal: making sure every vote counts.

So, who can we thank for safeguarding our right to cast meaningful votes for president? We can first thank the big states that moved their primaries up—in violation of the draconian party rules that bar them from doing so. (For once Adam Smith was right and self interest did in fact lead to altruism.) It was incredibly amusing to watch Michigan and Florida lose their delegates, topped only by the race between states like Illinois and New York to hold their primaries by February 5 instead of March 15. Of course these states really didn’t care about their votes counting; they wanted the lucrative business of having the fourth estate swarm their hotels and convention centers to cover the candidates. Even my puritanical home state of Massachusetts, whose secretary of state is content to let our primary vote usually occur sometime between Labor Day and Christmas (less work for him, really), has actually moved our primary up to the fifth, alongside most of the United States. I guess all the Boston-media buys for the New Hampshire primary were not lucrative enough. Lastly, we can thank the good people of Iowa and New Hampshire. Their desperate attempts to protect their birthright statuses as the first in the nation to vote might have actually destroyed it.

Usually Iowans and New Hampshireites have a tacit and not-so-secret alliance to ensure that their vote occurs before everyone else’s. Their secretaries of state routinely meet (possibly in a bunker, but more likely over a hearty lunch) and plot to ensure that Iowa caucuses first and New Hampshire votes first, or else. Yet this year with so many states pushing their primaries up, the good people of Iowa and New Hampshire turned to their elected officials to protect them from a vote during the holiday’s shopping-and-hangovers season. Well, thanks to them the frontloading stopped at January 3 but then the delicate alliance suddenly ended. New Hampshire, in choosing different candidates from Iowa, backstabbed its electoral brethren in a typical display of the state’s independent bravado, and in doing so, deadlocked the nomination until the very states (and the majority of Americans) whose influence they were trying to curtail voted. So Iowa and New Hampshire have truly sacrificed for our democracy by creating an unusual situation where the majority of Americans will actually vote for their presidential candidates—that’s the craziest part of all.