Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Insuring a free and fair Primary

The fact that I am not fond of our frontloaded Presidential Primary system for 2008 because it inherently prejudices the system toward those who can raise the most money is widely known. Some of you might be saying "gosh Oatney, hasn't it been that way for awhile now? That's just the nature of the game."

That a person has to raise a boatload of cash to even consider considering a run for the White House has been the case for a rather long time indeed. However, in past Presidential years, the fact that you were fourth, fifth, or sixth in fundraising didn't mean you couldn't compete. Primaries were spread out enough that if a relatively little-known candidate could get a decent campaign apparatus together in one or two swing States, they could make a serious run at the nomination. This was the case as late as 1992, when a little-known Governor of Arkansas that no one favored to win much of anything was able to capture the Presidential nomination.

There may be a much more difficult problem this year in Tennessee, however: Respecting the wishes of the voters themselves. Since some candidates tend to drop out of the race earlier than others, the Democratic and Republican Parties within each State get to decide what happens to those votes for candidates who have already dropped out of the race but remain on the ballot-and very often, votes for those candidates will not count at all.

This is a special problem in Tennessee because of the widespread use of early voting here, especially within the larger metropolitan areas. Early voting takes place in all 95 counties, but in most rural counties like mine, early voting takes place at a central location like the county courthouse. In heavily populated counties, however, there are usually multiple early voting sites. Whether the Primary takes place on February 12th, as it is currently scheduled, or on February 5th, as proposed (as part of Super Duper Tuesday), Tennessee law allows for early voting 20 days before the Primary, which means that early voting for the Primary will begin January 23rd and end February 7th (five days prior to Primary Day). If the Primary date is moved back, then the early voting period would begin even sooner. As things stand now, people would begin voting in the Tennessee Presidential Primary the day after the New Hampshire Primary takes place-it could be moved back to the time between Iowa and New Hampshire.

Under such circumstances, it is highly conceivable that great numbers of Tennesseans may cast their Primary vote for someone no longer in the race for President on Primary Day-their votes may not count. What should be done to insure that the votes of all Tennesseans are counted in the coming February Primary, regardless of what day it is officially held on or what days people vote? No one's vote should go unrecognized or uncounted. Regardless of whether or not a candidate has withdrawn from the race, the votes for that candidate should still be counted as normal when ballots are tabulated. In the highly unlikely even that a withdrawn candidate should muster enough votes to win the Primary, that candidate should still be awarded the State's convention delegates, and it should be the preference of the candidate whether or not to release his or her delegates.

Our Primary system has come to a wretched situation in which the voice of the grassroots is barely heard. At least we can make certain that while that voice is a still small one, it is not drowned out completely.

NOTE 5/2/2007 4:54pm: It is official now-Tennessee's Presidential Primary has been moved to February 5, 2008. God Help Us.



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