March 28, 2008
Dear Senator Nelson,
I have just finished reading a March 27 article on cnn.com which discusses your proposal to overhaul the primary system, as well as to abolish the electoral college.
I think you are right that the primary system needs to be reformed, and I have some ideas about how to do that which I will share with you in more detail below.
However, before doing that, I would like to express my disagreement with your desire to abolish the electoral college.
One of the challenges faced by our forebears was how to ensure sufficient influence by small states on the Federal government. The solution they devised for the legislative branch was our bicameral legislature. The Senate, where every state is equally represented, ensures that the needs and desires of small states are taken into consideration, while the House, where representation is proportional, ensures that the desires of needs and desires of the population are considered.
The electoral college serves a similar function for the executive branch. By awarding all of the electors for a state to the candidate with the most votes, the system ensures that even small states have a significant influence over the outcome of the election. Changing to a system in which presidents are elected by popular vote, or to a system in which electors for each state are required to be awarded proportionally, would eliminate that safeguard and thus essentially disenfranchise all voters in small states, rather than ensuring that everyone’s vote matters, which I hope is your goal.
While I think it is reasonable to allow individual states to award their electors proportionally if they so choose, and it might make sense for large states to do this (since even a divided delegation of electors would still have influence over the outcome of the election), I doubt that smaller states would think it a good idea, nor do I think it should be mandated by Federal law.
Now, concerning the other topic under discussion, our primary system…
Your idea to randomly assign when the primaries take place in each state is a great idea. I also support your idea to hold all primaries within a time span of a few months, so that the primary season is not ridiculously drawn out. And I agree that anyone who wishes should be allowed to vote absentee, and that (secure) voting by mail and the internet should be available. In short, all of your ideas for how to reform the system are great, and I heartily support them.
However, I have an idea of my own to add to yours, one to which I hope you will give serious consideration.
My idea is that every citizen should be allowed to choose when he or she casts his or her vote, and that ongoing tallies of the votes cast by all citizens thus far should be published on a regular basis. Secure mail and internet voting will make all this possible. This idea completely equalizes the primary system, making every citizen’s vote equal, by not giving any individual more or less influence over candidate selection due to being forced to vote on a particular date.
Another idea to consider is that if secure mail and internet voting are implemented, eventually voting in person at polling places can be completely eliminated, thus saving the taxpayers significant expense.
I have written about my idea in more detail at http://blog.kamens.brookline.ma.us/~jik/wordpress/2008/03/13/how-to-run-the-presidential-primary/ I hope you will take the time to read what I’ve written there and consider my suggestions.