February 6, 2008

Election Week: The Perils of Frontloading

This morning, it was all supposed to be over. Two candidates were promised to rise above the masses and act as standard-bearers going into the convention. The country was supposed to have spoken in a collective voice of approval, and the long trek of candidacy was to begin.

Turns out we’re right where we were yesterday, only it’s Missouri — so the weather’s different.

The frontloading of primaries by a number of states (including Missouri) to form a Super-Duper Tuesday backfired yesterday, as the collective need for half the country to stay relevant in the competition did nothing more than confirm the only fact that we already knew: this election isn’t going to be over until the first Tuesday in November.

In fact, Time has posted an interesting article that claims rather than keep states relevant, the frontloading of primaries onto a single, oppressively early date has actually taken them out of the decisionmaking process (emphasis added):

[A]ll the big states that rushed into the void to hold early primaries
may turn out to have spoken too soon. Instead of making themselves
kingmakers, their divided result has abdicated the power to the states
that waited their turn
. The next major contests include Maryland and
Virginia, and then Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, followed by what could
be a slow and grueling crawl to the convention.

Ohio and Texas this year will go to the polls to select their candidates on March 4, making them — rather than the 25 states and territories that polled yesterday — the new drivers of this campaign season.

The ironic thing, though, is that these contests on March 4 are falling on almost exactly the same date that the Missouri caucuses fell (March 7 in 1996 and 2000) before the state switched to a primary system so Missouri voters would have more of a say on the national stage. Would Missouri voters have exerted their influence with a mightier hand if they hadn’t been swept up in frontloading fever?

Primaries shouldn’t all be on one day, they should be spread to allow candidates to legitimately campaign throughout the entire country, while allowing all states a chance to contribute their legitimate say. Frontloading alienates voters, lengthens the final stage of the campaign to levels of ridiculous length and expense, and forces candidates to present themselves in an unrealistic fashion in the quest for one day’s bounty of delegates. There has been much talk this week about Missouri’s status as a bellwether state. Let’s hope that state officials keep this status in mind when scheduling future contests so that the Show-Me spirit doesn’t get lost in the pack.

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