It Is Time To Admit That Our Entire Primary Process Makes No Damn Sense

It Is Time To Admit That Our Entire Primary Process Makes No Damn Sense

The first of the Democratic primary debates was in June. It is now November. We have about three months to go until Iowa does its caucuses, and then New Hampshire does its regular vote a week later, and then Nevada caucuses and then South Carolina's regular vote and so on. Then we get to Super Tuesday, where a bunch of states vote at once. And the process continues until, finally, Washington DC gets to vote. At some point, we get down to about two people and the supporters of the one who is doing slightly better start screaming that the other one needs to do the "statesmanlike" thing and graciously drop out, and all of that candidate's supporters get mad because it feels unfair, and we go into the general all hating each other and feeling like we've been pulled through a loop.


Seriously. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? No other country on earth has a primary process this long. And for good reason — it's exhausting. Not to mention expensive.

So I have a proposal that probably no one will ever consider or listen to, but which I am pretty sure would solve a whole host of problems in one fell swoop: One Day. One Primary. All States. Ranked Choice Voting. Eighty-seven enter, one person leaves.

There are a number of different kinds of ranked choice voting systems, all of which have their pros and cons, but they all start out with the basic procedure of ranking candidates in order of preference rather than just picking one favorite. An instant runoff ranked choice election, which is what Australia uses in their national elections, looks like this:


Personally I think the Condorcet method-based ranked choice voting systems (which take into account not only who voters like most, but who they like least) is the best in terms of determining the truest will of the people. This would be especially helpful in situations where voters might not know who they like so much as who they really, really hate.

I have always been a fan of using ranked choice voting systems for all elections — but it especially makes sense in a primary situation where most people have a few candidates they like. For the 2020 elections, six states are adopting this method to some degree or another — Iowa and Nevada for early voters and Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming and Kansas for all voters. Maine is actually using it in the general.

Recently, Julian Castro has been arguing that it is a little messed up that we always start things off in Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the whitest states in the country. He's not wrong! That is messed up. Especially since these states are supposed to bring about the culling of the herd, they're supposed to be most representative of "What America Wants." It's like we're at a restaurant and the rest of America is supposed to need to see what Iowa and New Hampshire are getting before we can order ourselves. I don't like that. Do you like that? There is something inherently undemocratic about a situation where only a few states get to have such an outsized influence on the eventual nominee. Especially when those states are so lily white.

You know what solves that problem? One day of ranked choice voting! Democrats are already coming to the conclusion that the electoral college is hot garbage because the whole "some states are more important than other states" thing is stupid, so why are we still doing it for primaries?

The other thing this would really help with is the overall cost of campaigning, which in and of itself would eliminate a world of troubles. I love the idea of switching to publicly financed campaigns, but it's just not a very plausible option when this shit lasts for a year and involves so many personal appearances in every state. Not that I understand those anyway when we have the internet and television. Literally no one needs to go to a rally to decide who they are voting for. Have you ever, in your life, gone to a rally for someone you were not sure you were going to vote for? I sure haven't. Though to be fair, I've never been to a rally for someone I was going to vote for, either. I'm sorry but there is no one on earth I like enough to sit in a crowded room and listen to them talk for two hours.

This is why I stare at people so blankly whenever they try to tell me that Clinton lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania because she didn't personally spend enough time in them. What kind of person needs a personal visit from a candidate to their state in order to decide who to vote for?

But I digress.

If candidates didn't need to raise an absolutely absurd amount of money to run in a primary, those of us who care about "where candidates are getting money from" wouldn't have to worry about that as much, and those who don't won't have to argue with us about whether or not taking certain kinds of money is bad or worry that we will hurt candidates by not wanting them to take that money. Wouldn't that be nice? It would be like an automatic campaign finance reform, at least for that part of the election.

So far, all of the Democratic candidates combined have raised $377 million. That is so much money! That is an absurd amount of money, particularly considering that it's only really gonna pay off for one of them in the end. It's absolutely wasteful.

A one-day (plus early voting) ranked choice voting primary would also just save us all some of the agita, tribalism and contention between each other that always becomes an issue by the end. Considering various candidates rather than going all ride or die with one might make us all chill out a little bit more, instead of going full greasers vs. soc's. Maybe that is a pipe dream, but I have my hopes. I also think it would result in our getting the strongest candidate to beat whomever we're up against. And really, isn't that what matters?

Our current system is messy, it takes forever, it's expensive, and worst of all, it makes no goddamn sense. The states all have different things going on, there are caucuses, some states get to be more important than others for reasons no one can explain, people are supposed to drop out before every state even gets to vote, we have to do this whole thing with pledged electors who then go to the convention and officially vote there, even though by the time that happens, we already know who has won and it's all entirely symbolic. Why? Because that's the way we do it? Because that's the way it's been done for a long time?

I'm not sure that's a particularly good reason to continue doing anything, in and of itself.

I don't actually expect everyone to get on board with this, and even if they did, it's not like we can even do anything about it now. However, maybe it's something people will start to consider for the future, and then we can all remark upon how I was prematurely correct.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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