Overhauling The Primary System
Considering that the Democratic primaries in 2012 won't be much more than a formality, I wondered whether or not there would be a strong urge inside the DNC to just move on and make no meaningful changes to the primary system, despite the epic car wreck of 2008. The other strain of thought is that, because 2012 will have no winners and losers, it's easier than ever to change the system because stakeholders will have less of an impetus to game it. Looks like the reformers won out:
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina will lead the Democratic Change Commission, which is scheduled to report its findings no later than Jan. 1, 2010. The commission, which is largely comprised of Democrats who supported Mr. Obama (and a few who backed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in last year's contentious primary season), will review and streamline the 2008 calendar.
"This commission will focus on reform that improves the presidential nominating process," Mr. Kaine said in a statement, "to put voters first and ensure that as many people as possible can participate."
Comprised of 37 members, the commission has this mission:
The Democratic Change Commission will address three issues: 1) changing the window of time during which primaries and caucuses may be held 2) reducing the number of superdelegates and 3) improving the caucus system.
Let's break down these issues separately. Kaine is setting a marker that no caucus or primary can be held before February 1 of the calendar year, which I think makes sense. Sadly, he's still holding to this front-loaded structure, where a first wave goes between February 1 and March 1. I'd rather see a rotating regional primary rather than a system which encourages practically every state beyond the first tier to go on March 1. Not to mention the fact that the DNC couldn't get Michigan and Florida to hold to these dictates last year.
On delegates, the wording is a little vague, but the resolution provides for "a significant reduction of the number of unpledged party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates in order to enlarge the role and influence of primary and caucus voters in the presidential nominating process." That's a solid principle, and ultimately I'd like to see the superdelegates phased out, or at least not phased in until a second ballot so that the voters rule first. Delegate allocation formulas will get a makeover as well, and good, because one Congressional district shouldn't be favored over another based on whether or not they have even-numbered or odd-numbered delegates.
Finally, on caucuses, there is talk about maximizing "the opportunity for full participation by Democratic voters," and I agree. Maine has an absentee-ballot system for caucuses, and that should be the model. I know many people believe that caucuses are inherently marginalizing and should be abandoned, but they hold value as party-building events, and that decision should be up to the inidividual state parties.
Anyway, I'm glad we're talking about this very early, to allow for the range of debate prior to the next contested primary election.