Editorial: Why Iowa?
Earlier this week, Republican voters gathered in schools, fire houses and community centers throughout Iowa to officially begin the 2012 political season. Next week, it will be New Hampshire’s turn. Then come the rest.
Turning away from the immediate analysis of winners and losers, there’s a more fundamental question about America’s system of presidential primaries and caucuses. Why Iowa? Why New Hampshire?
The short (and wholly unsatisfying answer) is tradition. Iowa and New Hampshire have been ordained, by both parties, to start the process because … they’ve always started the process. This is the textbook definition of circular reasoning. While some forms of circular reasoning may have some validity (such as the popular refrain, "Because I’m your mother, that’s why"), in this case it is completely unjustified and runs counter to the democratic spirit of the election process.
The expected voter turnout from these two states combined would amount to only about a third of the population of an average Congressional district. And yet, this extremely tiny minority has the power to make or break a candidate. While not quite the "smoke-filled rooms" of political yore, it comes pretty darn close.
Likewise, it wouldn’t be fair if big states like New York, California or Texas were to have the power to name every early Republican and Democratic frontrunner. Frankly, it’s not fair for any state to hold this monopoly indefinitely.
So what’s the solution? Simple. Have the political parties draw up their calendar of primaries and caucuses, leaving the names of the states blank. Then, one year before the first primary is scheduled to begin, put the names of the states in a hat (or, to be more fair, into one of those lottery drawing machines) and assign the order at random. Get the Democratic and Republican parties in every state to agree to this and, if any subsequently decides to "jump the gun" as it were, they would lose their delegates.
Maybe we could start a new tradition … one that makes sense.