Re-ordering the Democratic Primaries

Why Biden Pushed for Re-ordering the Primaries

The official reason for re-ordering the Democratic primaries, to allow South Carolina to go first, is to increase the influence of Black voters in the selection of the presidential nominee. A second reason is clearly to strengthen President Biden’s position if there is a contest for the Democratic nominee for President.

Why Iowa Was Always a Bad Starting Point

I was never a fan of giving Iowa outsized power in the selection of presidential candidates. For decades it has forced otherwise sensible candidates, like Sen. Bill Bradley (a moderate Democrat from New Jersey), to reject reason and embrace subsidies for “gasohol.” Subsidies for gasohol are irrational and merely a subsidy for corn production.

The Upside of Iowa for the Country

That being said, there was some value to allowing the Iowa caucus vote to come first. Winning in Iowa requires meeting with small groups of voters. Candidates whose appeal is based on a manufactured media presence are at a disadvantage in Iowa, relative to those with real personal appeal.

The Dilemma of Iowa for the Democratic Party

The disadvantage of Iowa from the viewpoint of the Democratic Party is that the voters, even the Democratic voters, are overwhelmingly White. It may be true that this tilts the contest away from candidates whose primary appeal is to Black voters. Nevertheless, it may provide a kind of advantage to Black candidates. Barack Obama’s strong performance in Iowa provided evidence that he could garner significant support among White voters. It is not helpful to either Black voters or Democrats in general, if the primaries produce candidates who have limited appeal to White voters. Remember, the voting public in the general election remains predominantly White.

The Long-Term Consequences of Leading with South Carolina

Let’s consider a post-Biden election. In 2028, it is easy to imagine a primary battle between Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. Buttigieg is not popular in the Black community, as evidenced by his poor performance in the 2020 South Carolina Presidential primary. It is hard to say exactly why this is the case. It may be because Buttigieg is openly gay and it may be because African-Americans disliked his response to policing issues when he was Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Kamala Harris has stronger, but not unqualified, support from the Black community. If Harris wins the nomination, she would likely go down to defeat in the general election because she is deeply unpopular, a bad campaigner, and is tied, rightly or wrongly, to the chaos at the border. Buttigieg did well in Iowa because he is a good campaigner. He would do well in the general election because, in addition to being a good campaigner, he is a relative moderate and is not linked to the most unpopular aspects of the Biden administration. If South Carolina goes first, it improves the odds of Harris winning the nomination and, in my opinion, lowers the odds of the Democrats winning the Presidency.

A Better Choice for Both Parties

I think the most rational thing for the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party for that matter, is to lead off the primary season in a state where the party’s demographics (racial and political) mirror those of likely voters in the general election. As a first approximation, I would suggest considering the so-called “battle ground” or “purple” states including: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada. Ideally, the selection requires matching up the party’s political and racial demography in each state with that of general election voters. If anyone is aware of sources for this kind of data, please let us know.

Instant Runoff Elections/Ranked Choice Voting

I was pleased to see a couple of young people campaigning for ranked choice voting at a local arts festival. Ranked choice voting (RCV), sometimes called “instant runoff elections,” is probably the biggest institutional change that could move American politics toward the center.

The other two key changes needed are to replace partisan primaries with RCV and to replace partisan redistricting with non-partisan commissions. The Centrist Independent Voter promotes all of these changes in it’s policy position on Voting Rights and Reforms.

What is Ranked Choice Voting?

For those not familiar with the concept of RCV, it allows voters to rank a series of candidates from first to last. The initial votes are tabulated, and if no candidate wins a majority of first place votes, the candidate with the lowest number of first place votes is eliminated from the race. The ballots that were cast for the eliminated candidate for first place are then updated to reflect their second choice as their first choice. The eliminated candidate is removed from all other ballots and a similar updating process takes place. The votes are then re-tabulated in this manner until a single candidate receives a majority of the first place votes. RCV allows voters to express approval for candidates who are not front runners, without fear that their vote will be “wasted.”

When combined with a single non-partisan primary, or no primary at all, RCV eliminates the tendency of the party primary system to push the political process toward the extremes. There are a number of variants on this process. Some involve having an open, non-partisan primary in which the top 5 candidates then participate in a RCV general election. This may mean in some heavily Republican or Democratic districts that all of the general election candidates will be Republicans or Democrats. The saving grace is that since all voters will be choosing between them, the most centrist of these candidates is likely to be selected.

Ranked Choice Voting is Gaining in Popularity

According to FairVote: ”As of April 2022, 55 cities, counties, and states are projected to use RCV for all voters in their next election. These jurisdictions are home to approximately 10 million voters, and include 2 states, 1 county, and 52 cities. Military and overseas voters cast RCV ballots in federal runoff elections in 6 states.” It is noteworthy that that number is up from 43 jurisdictions in the most recent elections.

Is Ranked Choice Voting a Practical Solution?

Ranked choice voting can and has been accomplished at the local and state level without constitutional amendments or the cooperation of the courts. Apart from simply voting for the the most centrist candidates available, supporting RCV is the most practical thing that a Centrist Independent voter can do to move American politics toward the center. Go to FairVote to see if your state is considering Ranked Choice Voting.

If you have a chance to question a political candidate, at any level, your first question ought to be: Do you support Ranked Choice Voting?