Nominating Calendar Proposal:

Greater Diversity, More Participation, Less Frontloading





This proposal is designed to advance the objectives of electing a Democrat to the presidency, encouraging increased voter participation in the Democratic presidential nominating process, turning out an increasingly diverse and representative Democratic voter base, and facilitating grassroots organization and party-building that will help elect Democrats at all levels of federal and state elections in 2008.     



This proposal rests on two conceptual changes to the presidential nominating calendar that, working together, will preserve the historic strengths while addressing most of the key criticisms of the current system.  The two proposed changes are:


1.      Add one or two contests to a prominent position at the front of the presidential nominating calendar, between the New Hampshire primary and the beginning of the period open to any state.  These contests would occur in states whose voting public displays substantial racial, ethnic, religious or other key diversity characteristics


2.      Reverse the frontloading trend by creating a series of sanctioned dates on which states could hold presidential primaries or caucuses, beginning on or about the first Tuesday of February and ending on or about the second Tuesday in June, wherein the DNC Rules would set the number of delegates that could be chosen on each sanctioned date, thereby limiting the number of states that could hold contests on each date.



The two challenges posed by the current presidential nominating calendar are: (1) the need for increased voter diversity at the front end of the process, as early states are not as diverse or “representative” of the larger electorate as they could be; and (2) the calendar is far too front-loaded.

1. Diversity

Increasing diversity at the front end of the process is best addressed by adding a state or states to an early, prominent position in the presidential nominating calendar following Iowa and New Hampshire.  Beyond that practical solution, Democrats should be wary of trying to over-engineer the presidential nominating process in an effort to produce a particular result.  The law of unintended consequences will surely come into play (e.g., when the Super Tuesday southern primaries were designed to produce a more moderate presidential nominee and that did not occur).    

Although no single state can credibly claim to represent or be a proxy for the entire nation, some of the proposed alternatives – a national primary; multiple regional primaries; or alternating lead-off states every four years – each pose serious problems that are much more problematic than the current system.


·        A national primary or multiple regional primaries would eliminate the all-important one-on-one, grassroots politics at the front of the process, substituting instead a campaign that takes place exclusively in television studios, on airport tarmacs, and in pre-arranged, highly orchestrated large events.

·        A national primary or multiple regional primaries would be enormously expensive to participate in, favoring well-heeled candidates over lesser-known ones while increasing the influence of money and special interests in the nominating process.

·        A national primary or multiple regional primaries would also further condense the process (to a single date, or perhaps to very few dates).

·        Under a national or regional-based system, states would continue to lose influence, and only the largest states would participate meaningfully in the nominating process.

·        A national or regional-based system would depress turnout because candidates would be forced to run media-based campaigns rather than voter mobilization efforts.

·        Alternating lead-off status and significantly changing the order of primaries every four years would likely not conform to the Republican calendar, making the process more expensive as well as more unpredictable.  Plus, individual states would only get an opportunity to go early once in a generation, after waiting for several election cycles.  States can better gain influence by scheduling their contests on a particular date in a prolonged, 3-4 month nominating calendar free of frontloading.

·        Predictability is an important consideration – for political parties, candidates, electorates and the media – and it would be significantly undermined if not wholly sacrificed if the nominating calendar were to be transformed each presidential election cycle.


Adding a diverse state or states to the front of the calendar, between the New Hampshire primary and the beginning of the period open to any state – as opposed to a national, regional, or alternating lead-off state system – is the best, most preferable strategy for addressing the need for greater diversity earlier in the nominating process.   


2. Frontloading


The basic problem with the current presidential nominating calendar, which causes many states to lose influence in the process, has nothing to do with Iowa and New Hampshire, or with which state or states go first: the basic problem is frontloading, i.e., the process of condensing the nominating calendar to a much earlier, shorter time period.


As the Hunt Commission warned in 1982, frontloading trends then evident (and now much more pronounced):


“…threaten to ‘lock up’ the nomination prematurely, fore-shortening the period during which candidates may be developed and issues may emerge.  They make the party and its convention less able to respond to a changing political environment.  And they devalue states whose primaries and caucuses come late, reducing the prospects of a meaningful showdown between major candidates at the end of the window period.”  


Ironically, frontloading – where states march to the front of the process in order to gain more influence – results in many states being bunched up on the same dates, whereby each actually loses influence over the nominating process.


It is frontloading – not Iowa and New Hampshire – that forces candidates to drop out and narrows the field too early, because only those with sufficient money to compete in a number of states across the country, which have bunched up (frontloaded) on the same dates soon after Iowa and New Hampshire, can credibly remain in the race. 


Front-loading closes the decision-making process too quickly.  Having the final decision made so early in the process/calendar decreases voter interest and participation, as voters in later states perceive that their vote doesn’t count.  It is also unfair to candidates who may not have the finances to compete in dozens of primaries over the course of a few short weeks after Iowa and New Hampshire.


A preferable approach is to lengthen the calendar to a 3-4 month period of party-sanctioned primary and caucus dates, beginning in February and ending in June, wherein individual states would be allowed to schedule their primaries or caucuses on dates that they can occupy alone, or share with a few other states, as DNC Rules would delimit the number of delegates that can be chosen (and therefore the number of states that could hold contests) on each sanctioned date.


A longer calendar, with a limited number of delegates chosen and states holding contests on each sanctioned date, will:


·        give individual states more influence on the nominating process, as each state, either voting by itself or sharing the date with only one or two other states at most, would essentially “own” that particular date on the nominating calendar;

·        allow more candidates to compete for a longer time (i.e., does not narrow the field prematurely);

·        give the Democratic Party and Democratic voters across the country more opportunity to assess and reflect upon the relative qualifications, strengths and weaknesses of the candidates;

·        increase voter interest, participation and turnout;

·        strengthen state parties and energize voters at the grassroots level; and

·        contribute to the selection of a nominee who has demonstrated sustained, broad-based support and who is therefore more electable in November.


Should a group of states wish to hold their contests on a particular date or within a particular week, and choose more delegates on that date than would otherwise be provided for in the rule, reasoning that their influence would be increased by voting in such a fashion – e.g., the currently-proposed Rocky Mountain Primary – such an exception is consistent with and can be provided for and accommodated under the rule proposed herein. 



The above proposal addresses the two greatest weaknesses in the current presidential nominating calendar: (1) a lack of diversity in the early stages of the process; and (2) an overly frontloaded process.  It is these problems, not the historic lead-off status of Iowa and New Hampshire, which the Commission should be looking to address.  This proposal addresses these problems in a way that will not only increase diversity and better represent the views of Democratic voters nationwide, but will also encourage voter participation, strengthen state parties, provide better opportunities for presidential candidates to stay in the race longer while taking their case directly to voters at a grassroots level, and will ultimately help Democrats choose the most electable nominee.