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The Fix is in: The Undemocratic Primary System in the United States

Updated on October 19, 2015

The primary system for both the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States is undemocratic. For now, I will set aside the discussion of how the two-party system in the U.S. supports a plutocratic government. For my thoughts on that, please read the article linked here.

The U.S. elections themselves are just for show; “they are not democratic. Our choices are limited and the elections are dominated by corporations that work exclusively to guarantee their profits.” Not only are the elections and our two party system undemocratic, but the process for selecting the candidates for president in both parties is run by the elites in and does not allow for real choice.

The primaries start in Iowa and New Hampshire. They are two of the least representative states in the U.S.: “Iowa and New Hampshire together have about 4.3 million people in a nation of about 319 million. These states represent less about 1.3% of the nation’s population but are given the responsible of virtually choosing the two parties’ candidates.”

Furthermore, “The Iowa primary is not even a vote by the people. It has a caucus (group meetings with the party faithful) that favors party insiders and not candidates with alternative ideas. The primary in New Hampshire has very small turnout. For example, only three to four percent of voters nominated McCain in New Hampshire. So a few thousand votes in a small state decided who would represent the Republicans in 2008.”

Many state parties block voters not registered with their parties from primaries. In this way, voters are coerced to sign-up with one of the two majors parties or have no vote in determining the choices for president.

Click to view: Iowa compared to US demographics
Click to view: New Hampshire compared to the United States

Iowa goes first because of arcane rules about how many days before or after state caucuses for representatives would be. The state has been first since 1972. New Hampshire was first starting in 1920 before Iowa supplanted.

Food pandering in Iowa
Food pandering in Iowa
More food pandering in Iowa
More food pandering in Iowa
President Bush, #1 food panderer
President Bush, #1 food panderer

Currently, there are 22 dates for primaries. The later dates seldom matter, for the candidates are almost always decided before then. So populous states such as California and New Jersey have little say in who gets nominated as their primaries happen in June after 40 other states have had theirs. That disenfranchises California’s nearly 17.2 million and New Jerseys 5.3 million registered voters (2012 numbers).

Closed primaries are ways political parties force party loyalty on the public. The list of closed primaries is here.

In summary, 33 out of 50 states have closed or semi-closed primaries. The reason for this is that the Republican and Democratic parties don’t fully trust voters and don’t want a full democratic process. They believe in unquestioned loyalty: ‘party first, love it our leave it!’ If we wanted a democracy, we would have open primaries for all offices with a limit of one vote per contest.

Fair Vote Reform Suggestions

Setting aside all the other problems with our electoral system for now, here is a way to make the primary process more democratic:

Set up primaries of voting based on regions. Each primary would be based on geography. That would make it easier for candidates to travel from state to state. The regions would rotate every four years ensuring that not one region would dominate the process like Iowa and New Hampshire do today.

For example, the U.S. could be divided up into nine regions, each occurring three weeks apart. That would be 27 weeks of primaries, slightly over half a year. That would allow each party to prepare for general elections.

Far West:
Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington

Mountain West:
Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico

South Central:
Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana

Central and Northern Plains:
Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri

Great Lakes:
Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio

Central South:
Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina

Deep South:
Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida

Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, D.C.

New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine

Electoral votes 2012
Electoral votes 2012

Thus, each region would have a say and take the power to decide away from two of the least diverse states in the nation. There would be some diversity in each region. While Iowa is very white, there are many native tribes in the other plain’s states. Certainly, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than letting two of the whitest states with rural populations decide who the nominees are for president in the United States.

All primaries would have to be open primaries with each party primary on different days. That way people can all have a say over who runs for president. It would also reduce the power of the political party leadership and put some power in the hands of voters.

Moreover, the Republican and Democratic parties would have to pay for their primaries. That could be reconsidered if the parties open up the political process to make it possible for third parties to run candidates to compete or when there is a true multiparty system in the U.S.

Currently, we are funding the duopoly that limits our voting choices, “Estimates suggest over $400 million was spent by taxpayers in 2012 to fund primary elections alone; tax dollars that come from voters who the parties actively prevent from participating in the process.” So we end up funding parties that limit our participation in an undemocratic process. It’s just one problem of many with what we call ‘democracy’ in the United States.

Tex Shelters


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      Chica Libre 2 years ago

      I like it Tex!