Blogs > HNN > Stop The New Hampshire/Iowa Monopoly

Jan 2, 2008 4:49 am

Stop The New Hampshire/Iowa Monopoly

History teaches that the world we know had to be invented. No matter how natural today’s realities or yesterday’s stories appear to be, specific historical forces produced them. Americans often reveal the charming yet frustrating tendency to forget the contingent, random, nature of so much of our democracy. Many fundamental rituals which we now see as sacred are actually political improvisations – and some of them are quite new.

Party hacks should remember this lesson as they deprive party members in Michigan, Florida and other states of their democratic rights to select the presidential nominees. On Saturday, the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee punished Michigan Democrats for holding their party primaries on January 29 by stripping Michigan of all its 128 delegates and 28 superdelegates. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have imposed similar penalties on Florida for planning a January 14 primary.

These strong-arm, dictatorial tactics are mostly intended to protect the early voting and caucusing prerogatives of New Hampshire and Iowa. For more than two decades, the non-representative voters of these two states have had a disproportional impact on choosing the nominee. It’s become a big business in those states. Their state leaders squeal like pigs at the Iowa fair – and shriek like a rookie skier mistakenly whizzing down a double diamond in New Hampshire’s White Mountains – any time another state hones in on their turf. But the truth is that the voters of major states like Michigan, Florida, and California have long been rendered irrelevant in the nominating process by arbitrary scheduling quirks.

To see just how absurd this whole thing is – the origins of the early Iowa caucus have to do with a broken down mimeograph machine (kids, ask mom and dad – or maybe gramps and gramma what these things are). Back in 1972, when pc neither meant “personal computer” nor “Politically Correct,” a broken-down offset printing press forced Iowa Democrats to hold their precinct caucuses in January. The early date would give them enough time to duplicate and distribute the results during the various rounds of voting the caucus required. This arrangement made their vote the first in the nation.

Four years later, Iowans promoted their early caucuses to candidates and journalists. “I knew each wanted to be where the other was,” the Democratic state chairman, Tom Whitney, would recall, identifying the symbiotic relationship between candidates and the media.

One candidate who took advantage was Jimmy Carter. Carter worked Iowa intensely – and his slate of delegates received more than twice the votes of any other candidate’s. Moreover, Carter did “Better Than Expected.” Even though this procedure was merely the first step of many in choosing 47 of 3,008 delegates for the 1976 Democratic convention, reporters were looking for a winner – and found Jimmy Carter. [For formal sourcing of this story, check out Gil Troy, See How They Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate, revised ed., (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 234]

A logical system would push off Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan and the rest of them for a few more months. But if New Hampshire and Iowa have the right to start in January, other, more, larger, and more representative states should be allowed to as well – and citizens in those states should not be penalized for wanting to have some input in this important and complicated choice, especially this year.

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Tim Matthewson - 12/5/2007

Is this Gil Troy calling for a logical system of elections in the US? He is naive!