A National Primary Wouldn't Work
Voters in small and mid-size states would largely be ignored in a national primary
March 9, 2012
Americans want and deserve a more rational system for selecting our president, but a national primary with every state participating on the same day is a bad idea. Proponents like to argue that under this scenario, more voters would have a chance to participate in the process, and all states would have the opportunity to be relevant to the selection of presidential nominees. However, a national primary day would present several significant problems.
First, a national primary would give a huge advantage to better-known, better-funded candidates since only they would be able to finance the expensive advertising and large campaign operation needed to run a national "get out the vote" effort in all states. Lesser-known candidates without extensive campaign operations would not have an opportunity to reach out to voters in retail-style fashion and build support. Moreover, densely populated states with higher delegate counts would become the dominant focus of the campaigns and the media. In addition, political parties would have little control over the selection of their eventual nominee, and state party leaders would no longer have the flexibility to set their primary or caucus dates according to state-specific considerations, such as redistricting issues, state holidays, or other state and local elections.
If you want evidence of why a national primary won't work, just take a look at 2008. At least 24 states held a primary or caucus on February 5, resulting in what was essentially a de facto national primary. Super Tuesday became Tsunami Tuesday. The situation was so bad for overwhelmed campaigns, party leaders, and election officials that the two parties worked together to ensure their rules for 2012 would help avoid a repeat.
Instead of nationalizing our primary elections process, the National Association of Secretaries of State has long advocated a rotating regional primary system that gives every state an opportunity to play a role. Under the plan, the nation would be divided into four regions that would take turns voting first. By staggering the voting over a period of four months, this system would have the added benefit of giving voters a good look at the candidates and how they perform (not to mention how they deal with public policy issues affecting each region of the United States). It could alleviate some of the fundraising pressures that drive candidates out of the competition by providing financial and organizational benefits that come with regional campaigning. This would result in a more logical, orderly, and fair process that gives every state and its voters a real opportunity to play a role in the selection of the presidential nominees with results that are representative of the whole country.
Make no mistake about it. Candidates, voters, and political party members are increasingly frustrated with and confused by our seemingly arbitrary and chaotic presidential nominee selection process. The current system pits state against state when it comes to establishing voting order and fails to give many voters a chance to have a real say in the selection of presidential nominees.
However, a national primary day is a recipe for failure. It would only make it harder and more expensive for all candidates to have a fair shot at competing. Voters in small and mid-size states would largely be ignored. If anything, it would limit the number of viable candidates and severely reduce choices for the American electorate. If you think money plays too much of a role in our political process now, I urge you to consider the ways in which regional primaries would be superior to a national primary day.