Presidential primary system needs reform

Presidential primary system needs reform
If you're a political junky and you live in South Dakota, it's hard to keep from salivating this year.

It's a situation that can be compared to a bulldog on a strong leash who discovers a fat T-bone steak in his back yard.

Yet no matter how hard he tugs and pulls, that steak remains out of reach. His leash is too short.

This is the situation South Dakota politico worshippers must face. Hillary and Barack, John and Joe, Rudy and Mitt and Mike are focusing their attention on Iowa – right in South Dakota's back yard.

But South Dakota? We are just that expanse of green plains they are used to flying over when traveling from coast to coast. They couldn't care less about us. Politically, we aren't even a blip on the national radar.

Iowa, however, is a major target. With two exceptions, individual states are given a set time period in which to schedule a presidential primary, presidential caucuses, or hold a state convention to select delegates to the party national convention. The two exceptions are Iowa and New Hampshire, which are assigned preferred presidential caucuses and presidential primary dates.

The calendar of presidential primary elections currently in use in the United States is a most unusual democratic institution. In no other country is nomination for a major national office determined by a series of regional primary elections conducted in no particular order and under no form of centralized control.

The point system of the South Dakota State Football Playoffs has been designed with better insight than we will use to select the next president of the United States.

The problem isn't simply one of South Dakota being envious to our neighbor to the east. It's what will eventually happen in Iowa come January.

Iowans will go out on a sub-freezing night in two months, notes Newsweek magazine in a recent article, and will spend two or three hours casting – and then sometimes changing – their votes.

Under the Democrats' rule in Iowa, a candidate must collect at least 15 percent of the vote at a local caucus to be considered "viable." If the votes fall short, then the caucus-goers can switch their votes to another candidate, setting off another hectic round of horse trading.

Robert Loevy, an author and political science professor, has researched our nation's rather strange method of selecting its chief executive.

One glaring fact: his research of the '92, '96 and 2000 presidential elections shows South Dakota is, for lack of a better term, irrelevant.

Loevy deems a state relevant if it conducts a presidential primary or holds presidential caucuses that receive attention from the major candidates and the news media. The results of the primary or caucuses must have a significant effect on determining who receives the party nomination for president of the United States.

A state is deemed irrelevant if it conducts its presidential primary or holds presidential caucuses after the nominee has already been determined in earlier primaries and caucuses.

So, how do we fix this problem? Loevy has some ideas:

  • Shrink the present lengthy primary and caucus calendar into a more workable period of time. This long nominating calendar is absurd in view of the fact that the major party nominations for president are usually decided during the first one or two months of the primary and caucuses season.
  • Create a nominating system that does not overly favor or overly neglect any particular state or any particular region of the country.
  • Allow two weeks between primary and caucuses dates. The close scheduling of some primaries has an adverse effect on the nominating process.
  • Automatically eliminate losing candidates, thereby making all candidates who survive to the next "round" of primaries and caucuses appear as winners. This might best be described as a Sports Playoff System. Candidates would be automatically eliminated, and winners would survive to play in the next round.
  • Require proportional allocation of delegates according to the percentages of the vote received in the particular state.

    Is this system perfect? Probably not. Over time, there are certain to be some "bugs" discovered that need to be eliminated.

    We can't help but conclude, however, that this plan, imperfect as it may be, has to be better than our current system.

    The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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