Witt: Primary election process flawed

Published 9:47 am Tuesday, April 16, 2019

American elections seem to work reasonably well most of the time.

They have certainly improved over the years as far as reliability and the use of technology are concerned (OK, the ‘hanging chads’ are an anomaly).

The electoral college is a remnant of our colonial heritage which seems not to work the way the founders intended.

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Add to these issues the fact only an estimated 59.7 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election — which means less than 30 percent of the electorate chose the president — and it’s easy to see some of the flaws afflicting our system.

But perhaps one of the strangest occurrences that goes along with our quadrennial exercise of democracy is the way those primaries are conducted.

It seems every four years, some states scramble to modify their primary election date so they can exercise more of a voice in who will be chosen to run as either the Republican or Democrat nominee for our highest office.

But that practice has been largely halted since the two main political parties have agreed to hold states to current schedules for primaries by stripping them of convention delegates if they try to “jump the line.”

This whole process seems antithetical to the very idea of democracy: two political parties making determinations about how states will be allowed to conduct their elections.

The Iowa caucuses are held first, shortly after the first of the year, with the New Hampshire primary occurring a week later.

By custom, these two elections have an exorbitant amount of influence on the remaining months of the primary season, and media news sources spend nearly a full month constantly talking about these two events, until Super Tuesday, which occurs in February. Candidates spend an inordinate amount of money and time courting the voters in these two states, believing gaining first place in both gives them a good sendoff into the election season (which is not necessarily true as will be noted later).

The big question is, why do two such insignificant states have so much influence on a race for president that will last for 10 months more?

Neither state has a stellar reputation for picking the ultimate winner.

In 2016, Iowa and New Hampshire gave first place to a member of each party who failed to be chosen as the actual nominee, New Hampshire to Sanders and Iowa to Cruz.

A 50/50 record doesn’t exactly scream confidence in the process.

In 2016, there were 128.8 million votes cast in the presidential election (not counting small numbers for some other candidates).

In Iowa, 1.45 million votes cast for both parties represented 1.1 percent of the total U.S. vote and in New Hampshire, 694,310 votes represented 0.5 percent of the U.S total.

So, here we have two states which, combined, represent only less than 2 percent of the total U.S. electorate, having an arbitrary and unimaginable effect on the process of selecting the president of the United States, all for no apparent reason.

Most of the states which conduct primaries after Super Tuesday feel they have little or no influence on the ultimate choice of nominee … and perhaps they don’t.

Maybe the more equitable and sane way to conduct primaries would be for them all to be conducted on the same day, as is the November election.

But then, the political parties would lose a good deal of their control over how things are done, and that would never do, especially since, in 13 states now, those parties dictate that their primaries shall be closed to all except their registered members.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.