How to run the presidential primary

By | March 13, 2008

Here’s how I think the US presidential primary should be run…

Everyone interested in running for president has to declare by seven months before the general election and collect a predetermined number of signatures in at least 26 states to eligible for participation in the primary.

Six months before the election, ballots are mailed to every registered voter in the country. Each ballot contains a unique, cryptographically generated, secure serial number. A pre-addressed, business-reply envelope is enclosed with each mailed ballot. No record is kept of which serial number is sent to which voter.

There are three varieties of ballot:: a Republican ballot for registered Republicans in closed primary states, a Democratic ballot for registered Democrats in closed primary states, and a ballot valid for either the Republican or Democratic primary, for open primary states.

The primary voting period lasts from the day when the ballots are sent out until three months before the general election.

Any resident of any state may cast his ballot by mail or Internet at any time during the primary. The serial number associated with a ballot is verified and registered when the ballot is cast and cannot be used again. One of Rivest & Smith’s secure voting protocols is used to protect the integrity of the voting process.

Incoming ballots are tabulated as they are received, and updated results are posted to a public Web site on a daily basis.

Before the start of the primary, the states and territories in which voting will take place are randomly divided on a week-by-week basis into groups of states with approximately the same total number of delegates. Candidates are expected to campaign in the indicated states each week. Candidates are given three “free passes” to campaign in a state that is not on the schedule for that week. Any candidate who does this more than three times is penalized by losing votes and/or delegates. The week-by-week assignments are done separately for the Democratic and Republican primaries.

States which wish to hold caucuses instead of or in addition to a primary do so within a week after the end of their campaign week.

At the end of the primary period, a convention is held just as it is under the current system.


  • The primary period is short and proximate to the general election. while leaving enough time after the primary for a substantial campaign between the two chosen candidates.
  • Every voter gets to decide for himself whether to cast his vote early (early support can sway other voters) or later (not yet ready to make a decision). The decision of when to vote is not forced onto voters by an arbitrary schedule which invariably makes many people in every state feel like their vote didn’t count enough.
  • Assigning campaign weeks for every state ensures that most states will receive some attention from the candidates.
  • Selecting the campaign schedule randomly in each election year ends the unfairness of some states always getting to choose their delegates first (and thus ends the jockeying for position which led to the Florida & Michigan debacle we’re in the midst of).
  • Giving the candidates a few free passes to campaign off-schedule allows them to use some strategy to affect their campaign, which is one of the things voters and the parties want to see if the candidates are capable of, and to respond to unusual events that occur during the campaign.
  • Voting conducted via the mail and Internet is far cheaper than in-person voting.

So, what’s wrong with my plan?

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