Friday, December 07, 2007

Stop the insanity

Let me just review the Presidential selection process briefly, just to make sure I have this right.

A bunch of candidates spend about a year campaigning and raising money. The campaigning is mostly done in Iowa and New Hampshire, and fund-raising is done anywhere there is a hand to shake and some shrimp to eat.

Then the business of selecting delegates starts. Well, sort of. In Iowa, voters aren't selecting delegates, they are caucusing in order to pick delegates. Not many people understand the system, but somehow winners and losers are determined -- mostly on a basis of expectations. In New Hampshire, you can vote for anyone you want regardless of party affiliation. So if you are a Democrat who is scared stiff that Rudy Giuliani is the only Republican who can stop a Democratic win (and that's not a ridiculous thought), then you'll sprint to the voting booth and become an instant Republican.

And when we are done with Iowa and New Hampshire, we have clear front-runners as well as candidates who can no longer raise money and head for the hills, leaving a few buttons (we should have more buttons in politics, don't you think?) and signs in their wake. In a couple of more weeks, a few more primaries will be held, and the winners of the two major nominations may be determined.

And it won't be February. Which means the voting population won't be asked to pay attention again until ... un ... Labor Day. Seven months later. In meantime, 90-plus percent of the electorate won't have much to say about the outcome.

Does this make any sense? Do people really wonder why voter turnout isn't too high?

I like the idea of retail campaigning that Iowa and New Hampshire bring to the table. It's charming to watch the candidates work the crowds one at a time on C-SPAN. The two states seem to take the responsibilities seriously, too. It would be a great way to start the campaign. Instead, it feels too often like the beginning of the end.

I'm not sure what might work here -- a "no delegate picked before March 1" rule or something might not be too practical -- but this system makes the electoral college look downright civilized.