Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No way to pick a candidate

I am learning more than I ever wanted to know about the delegate selection process. States that go through four rounds of caucuses before naming delegates to the national convention, with delegates not legally bound to a candidate at any stage. Delegates awarded by Congressional district, with districts that have an even number of delegates almost guaranteed to split evenly. Districts awarded disproportionate numbers of delegates according to how they voted last election (or is that states? or both?). States getting bonus delegates for holding their primaries late. Superdelegates designed as a check to too much democracy.

This whole process is insane. In a hundred years, it will look as absurd as the 'rotten boroughs' of 19th century England, or tax farming in prerevolutionary France. Not to mention our own Electoral College....

What if we started from scratch? Suppose, gasp, nominations were one-citizen-one-vote affairs, with the nomination determined by an absolute popular vote total. Every voter could choose one party's primary in which to vote. If we wanted to drag out the nomination process, primaries could be held in four waves at equal intervals, with each bloc's position rotating on a four-election cycle.

I gather that the current system is designed to incent state and local party organizations to spur activism, get out their vote, etc. Maybe if I were more involved in politics I would recognize the rationale, the utility, even the necessity of this kind of motivation. But it seems to me that the downside - chaos, nonrepresentative democracy, fights over delegates rather than the votes that are supposed to determine the delegates -- outweighs the benefits.

When it comes to Constitutional matters, change should be slow, according to the principle expressed in the Declaration of Independence: "Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." But party rules are a different matter. The system is so dysfunctional that bold experimentation would seem to be in order.

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