If we could only pick them differently
A proposal to hold all presidential caucuses and primaries in each state and territory on the same day, and to have a constitutional amendment to allow the president to be directly elected by popular vote
I don’t live in Iowa or New Hampshire, where the nation's first caucus and primary, respectively, are held to select a party's nominee for president. Thus I don’t get to talk to the presidential candidates in person every four years, the way I sometimes do with officials in my home town or at the state capital. (I once spoke to Congressman Adam Schiff on the phone, in a town-hall style conference call. As my congressional district was being redrawn, Judy Chu, then running for the California state assembly, paid me a five-minute visit at my doorstep. She has since gone on to become my congresswoman.)
I also have a better liking for the more frequent local and state elections, whose ballot initiatives and propositions allow me to take part in making specific policy decisions.
Unless you’re a wealthy donor who hobnobs with celebrities at $10k-per-head fundraisers, presidential contests in California can be rather dull, when set against the backdrop of the frenzied media coverage and raucous partisan commentaries nationwide. By the time the primary election takes place in June, the presumptive nominees of the two major parties are already known. In the years since Reagan, few things are as certain in November as California delivering its jackpot of electoral votes to the Democratic ticket, even if Republicans do move into the governor’s mansion from time to time - just not recently, thanks to the return of Jerry Brown from Oakland to Sacramento in 2011, as the state recovered from the Great Recession relatively unscathed.
For many years, California’s political footprint has been set in slow-drying concrete, with the two great metropolitan areas asserting their liberal gravitational pull onto the conservative bastions of the smaller cities and the rural heartland. This inertia, along with the apparent irrelevance of the nation’s richest and most populous state in deciding who gets to run for president, is silencing the diverse voices of Californian voters, who may not always want to go with the same script they are given every four years. Consequently, it is also denying the rest of country of the creative input that Californian voters might have given, in the pre-election dialogue leading to the emergence of presidential hopefuls.
Imagine if all fifty states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia hold their primaries and caucuses on the same day, in May or June. Those aspiring to run would no longer have to stake their fortunes early in the East and the Midwest, to the exclusion of the West. They would have more time to court voters on the personal level (i.e., “retail politicking”) throughout the country, where the demographic presence can often be a more accurate reflection of national trends than the quaint small towns of Iowa or New Hampshire. A plurality of the votes on this day would decide who becomes the nominee, eliminating the need of delegates, and making the quadriannual convention an event of sheer motivational pomp and romp to unify the party's bickering factions - a party for the party - and that would be just as well. A candidate can declare his or her running mate well before the primary or very shortly thereafter at the convention, where he or she formally accepts the party's nomination.
Of course, this would not go well with the smaller states, whose voters have every reason to fear that presidential contests would thus be decided in California, New York and Texas well before the general election. The remedy would be no less than the constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College – that is, electing the president directly by a plurality, if not majority, of the popular vote in the general election. The irony here would be that, in order for large-state voters like those in California to become more engaged in the presidential selection process at its very start, they must cease being blocs of state voters altogether, large or small.
In this alternate universe, the all-important concept of the “swing state” would be rendered obsolete, because the divergent votes in any given state would no longer be subsumed into a single bloc of electoral votes for one particular party. This may profoundly affect how an unlimited amount money is spent by political action committees on behalf of their candidates and causes, as enabled by the Citizens United decision.
Also, as many embittered Democrats would remind you, Al Gore would have defeated George W. Bush in 2000 with a plurality of the popular vote, had the recount of votes with "hanging chads" in the state of Florida not gone to Bush's favor, and the final decision not made in the U.S. Supreme Court.
This election year, the Democratic nominee is a former First Lady, U.S. senator from New York and U.S. Secretary of State, whose decades-long ambition to move back into the White House is not to be thwarted by her improper use of a private email server for both official and personal communication while as Secretary of State, putting sensitive information at risk.
Her Republican opponent is reviled at home and abroad, a businessman of dubious merit whose incessant vituperation against Mexicans, Muslims, the handicapped and women prompted his legion of critics to throw every possible invective at him: racist, misogynist, demagogue, fraud, etc.
Given the choices we have this year, one wonders who else could have risen to the occasion, had the long, winding path to the Oval Office not always been laid the way it is.
- CW, July 6, 2016