The Primary Problem With Politics

ByColin Soleim

As the 2012 election season heats up, most of our focus is centered on who should be the next president, but what about the process of how we choose that person? Does anyone think the current hodgepodge system of primaries, caucuses, and conventions makes any sense?

I don’t. That’s why I’m excited to join a new organization called Americans Elect that is creating a newer, fairer, and better way to choose a president.

There are two main problems with our current presidential nominating process. First, it is undemocratic. The states that hold their votes early on in the process have disproportionate influence over the outcome and can make or break a candidate. Just ask former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. According to research by two economists at Brown University, voters in Iowa or New Hampshire have five times more impact than voters who cast their ballots on Super Tuesday.

Second, the primary process does not represent most Americans. Voters on the far right and far left of the political spectrum are more likely to participate and affect the results. A majority of states, like my state of Pennsylvania, even prevent unaffiliated voters (those who are not registered Republicans or Democrats) from voting in the primaries.

So by the time November rolls around, we are usually stuck with two presidential candidates who have been chosen by a very small, more ideological part of the electorate. We then vote for which one we dislike least and repeat the process again in four years. Is this any way to pick the most important leader in our country? Isn’t it time for a change?

Indeed, the way we choose our president has been evolving throughout our history.

At the very beginning of our republic, the congressional caucus of each political party chose the candidates, and the citizens themselves had practically no influence whatsoever. The process was known as “King Caucus” for its elite nature. Divisions between party activists and the congressional caucuses led to a new system of nominating conventions beginning in 1832. Although better than its predecessor, this system was still far from democratic. Convention delegates were often no more than puppets of the party bosses who pulled their strings from smoke-filled backrooms.

So by the end of the century, parties began holding primary elections where (finally) ordinary voters could actually have a say. Nominating conventions still continued, as they do now. The only difference is that, whereas the conventions of the past could sometimes override the decision made by all of the voters in the primaries, today most delegates are obliged to vote the same way as the voters in their states.

The current nominating process is certainly much better than what it was in 1968 when Hubert Humphrey was nominated by the Democratic Party despite not competing in a single primary. It is also much better than in 1804 when Federalist members of Congress were the ones who chose Charles Pickney as their party’s nominee. But, the process is still falling short of one that is truly democratic and representative of the whole country.

Enter Americans Elect. Next June, Americans Elect will make it possible for all voters from all states to have an equal say in choosing a third ticket for president and vice-president through the first-ever online presidential nominating convention. We will have a new choice for president in 2012, chosen directly by the people.

Here’s the best part: To participate, you don’t have to be a member of Congress. You don’t have to be from Iowa or New Hampshire. You don’t even have to be a member of a particular political party. You just have to be a registered voter and sign up to become a delegate at

The ticket that comes out of this convention will have been nominated by a group of Americans that is more representative and perhaps greater in number than those who vote in the early primaries, and the Americans Elect nominees will be on the ballot in all 50 states come November 2012.

It is the next step in upgrading our democracy, made possible by the combination of our oldest values and newest technology.

Photo Credit: Kristin_a