Saturday, May 21, 2016

PF 2016 Nationals Topic - U.S. Primary Process - Introduction

On balance, a one-day national primary would be more beneficial for the United States than our current presidential primary process.


There is no question the current U.S. presidential primary process is complex and I would say little understood by the average U.S. citizen. The primary is not a process by which the President of the U.S. is selected as you no doubt know. It is the process by which the leading political parties select which candidates will represent their respective parties in the general (national) election for President. It is important to note because the process is a political party process, it is the party which creates the rules and processes they will use to decide who will represent them at the national election.  There is nothing in the constitution which governs the process other than rules governing who is eligible for election as president. Of course, there are various congressional level guidelines established which the parties have adopted in an effort to make the process less exclusionary or discriminatory.  Despite the fact the general election, with its electoral college, tends to adhere to a one-man, one-vote paradigm, the selection of candidates has a long history of being dominated by party power-brokers, backroom wrangling, rule-changes, cronyism and intrigue right up to and including the party national conventions.

Generally, the parties choose their candidates through one of two principle means; either primary elections which are financed and run by the state government or through a system of caucuses which are essentially local, and often private meetings, in which delegates assemble and decide whom they wish to represent the party.  In those states which hold public elections, delegate may be assigned proportionally, for example, candidate 'A' wins 60% of the vote and candidate 'B' wins 40% of the vote, 60% of the state's delegate will vote for candidate 'A' and 40% for candidate 'B' at the national convention.  In other states, designated, "winner-take-all" states, 100% of the delegates will be pledged to the candidate which receives the majority of the popular vote.  Additionally, some states have closed primaries where voters can only vote for candidates in their affiliated parties or open primaries where voters may cross party lines and decide to vote for candidates of the opposite party. Each party reserves a number of "super-delegates" (Democratric Party) or unpledged delegates (Republican Party) who will cast their votes for a candidate as they desire at the national convention.

The two national conventions are the final step where each party's delegates assemble and formally cast their votes.  Each party has established rules and means by which the activities of the convention are carried out but as a general rule, if any candidate fails to achieve the number of votes needed to secure his or her spot as the party representative, then the committed candidates are "released" from their commitments and may vote any way they desire in subsequent votes.  The sequence of votes continues until a candidate achieves the required number of votes.  The 1968 Democratic National Convention is an example of how this process can be usurped or manipulated by political strong-arm tactics. After the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy left a large percentage of delegates, uncommitted, Senator Hubert Humphrey, who did not compete in a single state primary was eventually selected over other candidates, including Eugene McCarthy, who at the time was overwhelmingly more popular among the many anti-war delegates at the convention.

For more background on the process please see the references given below.

Why This Resolution?

Since the inception of the national election process which put General George Washington in office, there have been several changes and many attempts to change how candidates are selected and elected to the office of President. The system is far from perfect, and one could argue it is far from fair.  When we think of a "democratic" election we like to believe, that each person's vote counts in a significant way toward deciding who will lead the nation.  Of course one may debate whether or not the general election comes close to that ideal; but that is a debate for another time. Before we get to the general election, we engage in this long and very costly process of primary elections or caucuses to select the candidates who will face off in the general election.  Let's look at the caucus system. It can be easily argued primary caucuses are exclusionary, perhaps by design.  Most caucus are limited, small venue meetings which require attendance. There is no absentee voting system, no all-day extended voting opportunity and votes are usually cast and counted on scraps of paper. Meeting times are subject to change and often at inconvenient hours.  A primary election at least affords greater opportunity for broad participation using the vote tallying means approved for the general elections with state government oversight.

In addition, we can look at the events of the 2016 primary season for examples of flaws in the current system.  The long duration of the process tends to focus money and attention on the early caucuses and primaries in the race in an effort to achieve the required number of delegates early.  In the Republican party, Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee in April when other Republicans dropped out of the race. Several large or densely populated states, such as California and New Jersey, had yet to decide.  Voters will no doubt go to the polls in these important states with the knowledge their voices will carry no weight.  In fact, it will likely result in limited voter turnout. A single primary election day could potentially encourage greater participation by a wide range of demographics at a time when voters have a real choice in potential candidates.

On the other hand, if voting was to occur on a single day, the burden on campaigns would be enormous.  Campaigns would be forced to focus their time and money on high-impact states with the greatest number of at-stake delegates while ignoring the smaller, but no less important states. One could argue this would disenfranchise those smaller states and perhaps entire regions of the nation. However, this is exactly what we see in the general election and is an important criticism of that process.

The bottom line is, the representative form of elections in which delegates, representing blocs of voters may in itself be flawed but we are not asked to debate this topic.  Given that any system of elections may be corrupted, usurped or flawed, we are asked to focus on two choices:  either continue with the existing system which has served for decades or change to a single-day primary system.  A strong argument can be made for or against either.


On balance
This term is common is debate.  Reminiscent of a balance beam scale, the judge is asked to compare the advantages and disadvantages of one side to the advantages and disadvantages of the other and decide which way the scale tips.  On balance allows acknowledgement that both sides have problems but the debater's case demonstrates the benefits on one side outweigh the harms on the other and therefore should be preferred.  On balance then is a "comparative advantage" framework.

As a noun, Merriam Webster defines a primary as "an election in which members of the same political party run against each other for the chance to be in a larger and more important election".

one-day national primary
Given the above definition of 'primary' this phrase refers to a party candidate election process which occurs nationally on a single day.

more beneficial (for the United States)
I find this an interesting choice of words.  More beneficial presupposes the existing process has benefits and the resolution claims a one-day primary would have more benefits than the the benefits we receive from the existing process.  What I think is significant in this wording, is the burden it places on the Pro.  It tells me the Pro cannot base its case solely on a condemnation of the status quo and argue the one-day primary would be have fewer disadvantages.  The Pro must prove benefits for the United States.

current presidential primary process
This is the process described in the foregoing section of the analysis.  It is the system of elections and caucuses which ultimately culminate in the two party's national conventions and selection of opponents for the general election.

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