Tuesday, May 24, 2016

PF 2016 Nationals Topic - U.S. Primary Process - Con Position

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

Con Position

It is important to keep a perspective on what exactly is happening in the primary season.  The national parties are selecting their candidates who will eventually compete for the office of President of the United States. Let that sink in a moment. The major political parties are essentially private entities which you are welcome to join or not. It's a private club with open enrollment.  If you agree with their ideology and means of conducting business, join. If not, consider the alternatives. So the "party" as an entity is like any national organization with chapters in individual states and as long as they do not violate certain federal laws and constitutional mandates, they are free to set their own rules and conduct their business as they see fit. Obviously critics can look at how a party chooses to conduct its business and identify flaws on any number of criteria. Even internally, the various chapters and special interests groups within a party will criticize various aspects of how candidates were selected. Remarkably, most of the internal criticism is quiet when the party's candidate wins the general election.

So to break it down even more simply consider the following. You and your associates create an organization with the aim of promoting a certain political ideology and others from around the nation, like the ideas and so they too join, forming local chapters under your organizational banner. Looking forward your group leader says, there is a national election coming up for president, let's select a candidate to represent us and so, a few volunteers present themselves as potential nominees. Then each chapter begins the process the scrutinizing the candidates until eventually they decide on a nominee.  What interest is that to people who do not belong to the organization? Why should anyone outside of that political group care how the group goes about the business of selecting its nominee? Even if the group's selection method ends up disenfranchising others within the group, it is still a private matter for the group to work out.  Yet somehow, the current primary process evokes cries for federal or state intervention into the legal activities of a private organization.

Even if there is a compelling, broad-spectrum rationale for usurping the process and forcing change, there have been numerous proposals already put forth on how to achieve whatever goals are considered essential.  The idea of the national primary, as proposed by the Pro team, is only one such idea in a group of competing proposals. As we shall see, the national primary while simple and easy to understand may not produce the "best" nominees and certainly cannot necessarily satisfy the best interests of the parties. Con may readily accept the current system has its flaws. Con may readily admit reforms may be required, but Con claims, the national, one-day primary is not the answer.

The Best Choice

It is essential that each national party establishes an agenda with broad appeal. After all, the goal is to win the White House and at the end of the process a nation-wide, general election will ultimately decide which party will place its nominee into the Oval Office. Therefore, it is essential for each party to "test" each candidate to establish the individual's loyalty to the party, adherence to party ideology, and general appeal on a national level.  Additionally, each local organization within the party has interests which are, well, local.  For example, farm states want to make sure the nominee will be aware of and protective of interests which impact their farming communities.  States with large urban population centers will seek a nominee who will deal with the issues and problems of urban decay, crime, etc.

Conley (undated):
This primary season that begins in January of the presidential election year and ends with the parties’ summer conventions serves a vital purpose in presidential selection. At a fundamental level the nomination process provides a framework for legitimization of presidential candidates and facilitates mass electoral choice, which is the lifeblood of representative democracy. The system is aimed at winnowing the field of contenders, producing a candidate with the greatest level of consensus in each party, and giving voters the tools they need to make informed choices. The primary season furnishes contestants with a forum to debate current policy issues, critique one another as well as candidates or the incumbent from the other party, and make their stances known to the public while enabling the press and the public to scrutinize their platforms. The objective is to produce the most qualified candidate in each party for the nation’s highest office and close ranks by the end of the summer national convention, which signals the beginning of the general election campaign.[6]

Really, while the national party organization oversees the process, it is a process which begins at the grass-roots level and builds momentum, sequentially and which is uniquely restricted to party interests. Because each candidate has the opportunity to start small, state-by-state, lesser-known individuals have the opportunity to be evaluated in the local contests and build a following closely monitored by the national press.  It provides them the time and opportunity to build a following and the financial backing necessary to continue.

Protecting Party Interests

Even though the party nominee will eventually compete in the national general election, each party has a compelling interest to put-forth a candidate which adheres to party ideology and will protect the interests of the party.  As already explained, parties are simply political organizations; groups of citizens who organize under ideological banners and similar interests and every election season, they are free to choose who will represent them.

Coleman 2012:
Although Congress has authority to regulate the timing of congressional and presidential elections, arguably including presidential primaries, some observers maintain that congressional efforts to prescribe the methods of choosing national convention delegates may be restricted by the parties’ constitutional rights of free association. For nearly two centuries, the parties have determined their methods of choosing nominees without federal oversight and might resist a system imposed by Congress. Also, legislative action may not achieve the expected results. Were Congress to establish regional primaries or a national primary, for example, state parties whose interests were not served by the new system might switch to the caucus method in an effort to circumvent Congress.[12]

Coleman suggests that if even if the federal government tries to intervene in the selection process by mandating a national primary, the party may still circumvent the law.  After all, if certain members of my group nominate themselves, I could still meet with them privately and we could agree which one of the several will represent our group at the federally mandated primary. This in effect nullifies the purpose of the national primary but I can do this because the activities of my political group are protected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Flanders 2011:
the Supreme Court has consistently recognized value in letting the party pursue its goals as it best sees fit. In the context of primaries, that means using different methods of choosing the nominee (a primary or a caucus), experimenting with the order of states, and allowing non-members of the party to vote in the primary. The success of each different experiment is not the point—the point is that the party should have the freedom to decide how to run its own internal affairs. [922]

The right to free association does not only limit intervention by the federal government, it also limits actions by state governments which may have a compelling interest to manage the timing and methods of political activities due to costs, or other competing interests.

Kamarck 2016:
In Ray v. Blair (1952) the Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional for a state to allow a state party to make potential electors to the electoral college sign a pledge of loyalty to that party. In Cousins v. Wigoda (1974), the Court ruled that political parties have the authority to set their own rules for their nomination process, including the rules that determine how delegates are seated at the national convention, and that such party rules trump state laws.18 Political scientist William Mayer argues that, since Cousins v. Wigoda: “…the Supreme Court has quite consistently upheld the claims of political parties almost every time they have come in conflict with state law."[6]

The Disadvantages

So let us look at the hypothetical for the sake of the Pro position and assume that a national, one-day primary could be instituted. Would it be more beneficial than the present system?  Pro may make compelling arguments certain benefits could be gained, or more properly, certain problems reduced but for now there is no real evidence such claims are true.  It is merely the opinion of a few intelligent individuals. Con, on the other hand, may look to the disasterous 2008 primary as a de-facto "national" primary as an example of why such a mechanism fails.  If the national primary creates disadvantages, these serve to support the Con. After all, the resolution states, "on balance" and so it it the duty of the debaters to present a framework which allows the judge to weigh the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the each side.  Under today's system, each and every eligible voter in the country will get a chance in the general election to vote on a presidential candidate, or not vote, as is their right.  So we must state that one of the most important objectives of the primary process is select the "best" possible candidates for the office.

One major disadvantage is, the best candidates may not be the most well-known. At least not at the start, and media attention which builds familiarity requires money and momentum which a sequential primary process can produce.  Without this kind of recognition, voters choices will be limited to only the few candidates who already are known.

Flanders 2011:
For starters, the national primary might be thought to make it difficult for less well-known candidates to win. They will not have the name recognition to capture many votes nationally, and they will not have the money to run a national campaign. This is bad for the value of a meaningful vote. The fewer “smaller” candidates who are able to run an effective campaign, the less choice voters will have come primary time. Moreover, a national primary may not be a very competitive race, if a well-funded and well-known candidate is able to take an early lead and sprint ahead of the field. He or she will able to sew up the nomination rather quickly—indeed, after the national primary is held, the race will be over. {937]

Even in situations where there are plenty of well-known candidates, too much choice can be a negative because the party votes will be split across the candidates.

Hansen (undated):
The most valid objection to the run-off primary is the likelihood of a plurality nominee. Should the names of five candidates be submitted to the people the winner could receive only thirty per cent of the vote and seventy per cent of the electorate would be, in effect, disfranchised. [179]

The effect of multi-candidate elections can not only disenfranchise voters, it can end up yielding a candidate who in fact, instead of the being the "best" is the least favorable among the majority. Jackson critiques the concept of a national primary.

Jackson 2008:
However, it may have too many practical and political obstacles to overcome.  If we did not have a run‐off primary, or a second primary election, it would be impossible to guard against what is known as the “Arrow Paradox”, i.e. the winner in a multi‐candidate field can actually be the last choice candidate for a majority of the voters if the winner is only supported by an intense minority. The only way to avoid that problem is to conduct a runoff primary.  The national primary plan also fails to provide for the advantages of sequencing the primaries and guarding against the need for sober second thoughts among the electorate which the regional primaries provide.

Flanders breaks down the issues in terms of the values one hopes to achieve in an election process. He does not necessarily advocate a particular methodology but examines the effectiveness of the current system and proposed systems in achieving the desired values. On key value he isolates is the value of "deliberation". As defined by Merriam-Webster, it is slow and careful thought or discussion in order the make a decision. Candidates need to be tested and evaluated over time.

Flanders 2011:
However, if we look at things in terms of deliberation, the national primary appears as something close to a disaster. It favors mainstream candidates who already have wide appeal and name recognition. Crowding out third party candidates may hinder the right to a meaningful vote; but that crowding out is also salient because it means that there are fewer voices in the conversation. These voices matter, not only because someone may want to vote for the “marginal candidate,” but also because the “marginal candidate” can bring new perspectives to the table, and force the mainstream candidate to consider that perspective—and perhaps alter his or her own position in light of it. [938]

So while choice and deliberation are key objectives in order to narrow the field to a "best" possible candidate, Flanders expands his examination of the topic to recall the importance of the local and regional issues which in the long run may be more important than some of the national interests espoused by candidates.  As I have stated earlier.  Farm states want to protect the interests of farmers, and urban centers want to protect the interests of urban life. So when we consider the combined awareness of local interests with deliberation the national primary fails to be beneficial on both counts.

Flanders 2011:
The variety of perspectives is also relevant if we consider the states as having primaries at different times as opposed to having one day when the primary takes place. A one-day primary in all fifty states is a national primary. It is not fifty separate primaries. But when you spread out the primaries and across different states and different regions at different times, more issues become salient. In particular, regional issues become salient. A national primary would have to be about major national issues. Regional and state primaries, however, would be more about local issues; candidates who hope to win in a state or regional primary would have to pay attention to those issues. Moreover, deliberation—unlike aggregation—takes time. It is a process that cannot be done in a day (even a day of deliberation). That is why if we had only one day to vote and to decide the nominee, this would be a disaster for deliberation. Deliberation presupposes the possibility and the actuality that people will change their preferences or at least better inform their preferences if they are given information and time to think about that information.136 If the primary is just a one shot affair, then the possibility of meaningful deliberation is foreclosed, or at least strongly curtailed, from the start. [938]

For all these reasons and more, we urge a Con ballot.


Coleman, KJ, (2012), Presidential Nominating Process: Current Issues, Congressional Research Service, January 27, 2012. Accessed 5/20/2012. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34222.pdf

Conley, RS (undated), Presidential Campaigns and Elections: An Overview, Department of Political Science, University of Florida. Accessed 5/20/2016. http://users.clas.ufl.edu/rconley/presidentialelectionschapter.pdf

Flanders, C (2011), WHAT DO WE WANT IN A PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY? AN ELECTION LAW PERSPECTIVE,University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform [Vol. 44:4 Summer 2011]. Accessed 5/20/2012. https://prospectusmjlr.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/mjlr-44-4-flanders.pdf

Hansen, RH, Barriers to National Primary Law, Law and Contemporary Problems, accessed 5/20/2016. http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2918&context=lcp

Jackson, JS (2008), Presidential Nominations and Regional Primaries: An Analysis of Proposals for Reform, An Occasional Paper Of The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, January, 2008, Paper #9. Accessed 5/20/2016. http://paulsimoninstitute.siu.edu/_common/documents/simon-review/regional.pdf

Kamarck, EC (2016), Why is the presidential nominating system such a mess?, Center for Effective Public Management, Brookings Institute, January 2016. Accessed 5/20/2016. http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2016/01/25-primaries-mess-kamarck/primaries.pdf

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