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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

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

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

Pro Position

Politics it seems, is more an art than a science. Of course I say that because I am far from being an expert on politics or the craft of running a successful political campaign.  Both sides of this debate will rely a lot on opinion and entrenched ideology driven by career politicians.  It seems in the beginning, the founding fathers had little or no faith in the ability of common, ordinary citizens to choose the best leaders.  Obviously each person wants what is best for themselves; a good economy, safety, low taxes, whatever. Apart from that, most have little idea about the qualifications required to ensure those things. People often look for individuals who have a proven track record of success in leadership positions, and who hold to a compatible system of beliefs and moral codes.  Potential presidents need to be "presidential", whatever that means. So when a man or woman proclaims a desire to be "your next president" what does it take for him or her to convince you?  Our current system is essentially a two-party system. Yes I know, there are other parties like Libertarians, Constitution Party or Green Party, but it doesn't matter when it comes to the office of President.  The structure of the electoral college and the prevalence of populous, winner-take-all states all but assures there is little chance of electing a viable third-party candidate. For this reason, most of the money and attention is focused upon the two major-party candidates and so the vetting of candidates; the winnowing; the process of narrowing down to the two opponents who will face-off in the general election is manipulated and guarded by both camps as they struggle for power.  This system of "primaries" has evolved into a extremely long and drawn-out process which is not only very costly, but physically demanding as candidates and their teams charge around the nation in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the voters. It's gotten so drawn out, incumbent candidates seem to spend 25% to 50% or more of their time in office campaigning for reelection.

Feldman 2012:
What we are left with is a two-year long process that invites the participation of marginal candidates along with those who can spend two years running for president. Then it winnows them out in a way that does three things, all of them bad: It prevents the majority of Americans from having a real voice in the selection of their party’s nominee, it encourages marginal and extreme candidates to spend an eternity in Iowa and NH hoping that an early win will catapult them into the first tier, and it often produces a candidate that is unrepresentative of his/her party.

The adage is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  The current system is a means to an end but do the ends justify the means? Pro agrees with Feldman. The system is broke, resulting in taking away the voting power of millions, it drains the life out of campaigns with high cost endurance races, and does not produce satisfactory candidates, forcing voters to choose between the lessor of two evils in the general election. Is there a better way in the age of the Internet, advanced broadcast media, cellular communications and social media in a nation where more people are graduating from college than ever before? The Pro Position says yes and the one-day national primary is one such method. Let the candidates run their campaigns for a period of time, let them fly around and hold their town-hall meetings, build popular support and funding, participate in debates, whatever they feel is needed to win, and then on a stated date which is consistent every election season, the nation casts its votes.  It is an idea which has consistently been favorable with the vast majority of ordinary citizens since the 1980s. (Altshculer 2008)

Feldman 2012:
The solution is to eliminate the conventions and schedule a nationwide primary on the first Tuesday after Labor Day. This will have the benefit of shortening campaigns, enfranchising all Americans in selecting their party’s nominee, and prevent marginal candidates

The most important argument in favor of this proposal may be the fact it is the exact process used in the general election to elect our president.

Thompson 2010:
Public opinion consistently favors a single national primary. Some political scientists agree. A national primary would have important advantages. It would treat all states equally, increase turnout, and reduce costs. All voters would have the same information as in the general election (to the extent that the latter is simultaneous).[9]

Popularity is no reason to win debates, but it helps to know and point out the Pro position is widely viewed as a preferable alternative.  Keep in mind, the judge is most likely a voter who is also frustrated with the current primary system.

Front Loading

The root of all things bad with the current primary system is based on the idea of front loading. Because the primary is a sequential process, some states are first, second, and so on. The race to become the party candidate, requires an individual to garner a certain number of pledged delegates which are won, in their various state primaries (or caucuses).  When the required number is acquired, that individual becomes the presumptive nominee (of course other rules are applied but none as important as obtaining the required number of delegates).  Right now, Iowa, followed by New Hampshire are the first primaries in the nation and yet despite the enormous attention they attract by both candidates and the press, they are among the least representative states of the general population.  Iowa is rural and mostly Caucasian, for example. New Hampshire is also, rural, sparsely populated and conservative. Often, party leaders in other states desire to play a bigger role in influencing support for their favorite candidates and so there is a motivation to hold the state primary or caucus early in the year.

Wattier 2004:
Frontloading is a decision to move a primary date to the beginning (“front”) of the presidential nomination season.  State party leaders have moved their primary dates to the front so that their partisans may have more influence in the selection process. Over time, more and more primaries have been moved to the front (“loaded”), creating nomination seasons with more and more delegates awarded in multi-state (“Super Tuesday”) primaries. [1]

A consequence of front loading is candidates can potentially achieve the required number of pledged delegates sooner in the primary season and when this happens, the later primaries and votes will have no influence on the outcomes.

Wattier 2004:
Critics prefer a “back-loaded” process that would last longer. A longer race, if competitive, could provide candidates more opportunities to espouse their policy positions, journalists more opportunities to cover the issues, and citizens more opportunities to learn the candidates’ issue positions. Citizens residing in states at the “back” would have a more compelling reason to vote.

The impact of front loading, arises from the fact campaigns may end early, sometimes soon after the first "super-Tuesday", and this destroys motivation for voters in other states to get out to the polls in the subsequent primaries; and why should they?  The contests are essentially over at that point. Of course, Con may claim parties have the authority to make rule changes which could limit front loading and ensure a more balanced campaign season but that argument is baseless.

Wattier 2004:
State party leaders—namely, governors and state legislators—decide when to begin their delegate selection activities. They not only have the authority to move those activities, but they also have ways to protect their right to decide such matters. State party leaders have substantial influence over national leaders who might propose reforms; they have even more influence over their state’s convention delegates who must ultimately approve all reforms. [19]

The Party Caucus

A party caucus is a means of candidate selection which functions independently of state governance and amounts to a meeting of sorts comprised of selected delegates who, through a series of procedures and votes assign delegate pledges to candidates.  This system of selection has been known to be exclusionary and discriminatory in some areas and would, by today's standards be in violation of civil rights laws (Flanders 2011).  Most of these practises have been limited by law and national party standards.  What remains, nevertheless, is an often complex and confusing procedure which can make broad participation difficult. 

Flanders 2011:
Some states run their primaries via a caucus system, and this may present problems even with the formal right to vote, because people may have trouble attending the caucuses. They may be held at odd times, or they may be held in houses that are not accessible to the handicapped or the elderly. They may also involve a large time investment. Furthermore, you cannot vote absentee; those overseas and away will not have the right to vote. In short, the caucus system may in fact end up preventing a large number of people from even attending or participating in the caucus itself. This, we might think, amounts to a denial of the formal right to vote as well. Barriers are being set up which stop some people from participating. To be sure, these barriers may not be as severe as a poll tax or a literacy test, but they are obstacles-obstacles that may mean that people do not get to exercise their formal right to vote at all.

Given the potential disadvantages of the caucus system in providing access to many individuals, the system continues in many states as allowed by the rules of the national and state party organizations.  As a kind of "private" organizational procedure, the rules are not subject to judicial review insofar as they do not violate state or federal laws and most private organizations are pretty much allowed to make up their own rules as they see fit for their purposes.  In this case, the purpose is to advance a particular candidate toward the general election.

Panagopoulos 2010:
Scholars routinely lament anemic participation in caucuses, even compared to primary elections, and the participation inequalities between these two types of nomination contests ignite concerns about the potential for introducing bias and misrepresentation in the electoral process. There is evidence that caucuses attract ideologically extreme participants10 and that substantive differences between primaries and caucuses will lead to systematic differences in candidate choice. [427]

Once again, Pro has isolated another fault with the current primary system which limits voter participation.

Meaningless Votes

One of the key tenets of democracy is the principle of one-person, one-vote. A democratic form of government is a government of the of the people and for the people.  Now I know we say, the U.S. is a democratic republic, not a true democracy but I don't believe the argument is effective or meaningful. There is evidence the primary process in the U.S. harms voter turn out and this potentially harms democracy.  Most judges will want to believe their votes should count for something, but often because the candidates are weeded out early, the later primaries and votes have no impact. It may even be possible to argue that federal law is violated.

Flanders 2011:
If the presidential nominee is all but determined by the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, then those later on in the process may feel deprived of their ability to influence the selection of the nominee. They will have the formal right to cast a ballot, but their vote will not matter. Indeed, the later a state holds its primary, the less likely a voter in that state will have any influence on the outcome of the competition. Some have even raised the prospect that this lack of influence, if it results in African Americans being denied an effective voice, may violate the Voting Rights Act." Iowa and New Hampshire, states that do have a disproportionate influence in selecting the nominee, tend to be racially unrepresentative of America.

Flanders expands this argument to suggest other potential rights may be at risk when one considers that individuals are denied the opportunity to vote for the candidate of one's choice because the nature of the system has weeded them out before the vote could be cast.

Flanders 2011:
If a voter does not feel that there are any candidates who adequately represent her interests, she may feel that she lacks a meaningful choice in the primary process. But does this rise to the status of a right? In some contexts, it may. Consider if the state puts onerous restrictions on the rights of third party candidates, so that few are able to run, or prevents a voter from writing in her favored candidate, so that she is "forced" to vote for the major two party candidates. Justice Kennedy, for one, has said that a voter in this situation may be deprived of a "meaningful" vote in the election. This is because the voter may feel that she is "substantially limited in [her] choice of candidates." She might feel that her right to vote has been diminished insofar as she has been prevented from voting for the candidate that she would prefer to vote for. We might also look at the right to a meaningful vote as in part a right for candidates to run for office. The individual's right to vote has always been bound up with the right of candidates to run for an office; the Supreme Court has said that the two sets of rights cannot be neatly separated. Individuals can have standing if their favored candidate is excluded," because part of their right to vote is bound up with having a certain candidate run. So just as a voter may have a right to a meaningful choice of candidates, a candidate may assert-if only through the voters-his right to be part of a slate of candidates on the ballot.

Candidate Funding

The charge is made that a one-day primary would favor the more popular and better financed candidates.  However this is based on speculation.  In fact, research by Irfanolgula, et al; suggests that early contest winners under the current system actually end up spending more than their fellow candidates. The implication is those candidates who need time to build a following and funding may actually require less money in the long run if a simultaneous vote is utilized.

Irfanoglua, et al (2010);
Consistent with the theory, in the laboratory we find substantial evidence of “New Hampshire effect” in the sequential contest, i.e. the winner of the first battle wins the overall contest with much higher probability than the loser of the first battle. However, contrary to the theory, sequential contest generate substantially higher expenditure than the equivalent simultaneous contest. This is mainly because losers of the first battle do not decrease their expenditure in the second battle; and winners of the first battle substantially increase their expenditure in the second battle, instead of decreasing their expenditure as predicted. Lastly, we find that subjects learn to behave more in line with equilibrium predictions with repetition of the experiment.[20]

The researchers extend their conclusion to suggest simultaneous primaries (as Pro is advocating with a one-day primary) are potentially more efficient.

Irfanoglua, et al (2010);
Although the analogies between our laboratory experiment and naturally-occurring political contests are imperfect, we believe that our findings provide valuable insights. In particular, the finding that sequential contest induces higher expenditure (and thus more inefficiency) than simultaneous contest is both interesting and puzzling. Previous theoretical and empirical research on sequential and simultaneous voting provides evidence in favor of sequential system (Morton and Williams, 1999, 2000; Klumpp and Polborn, 2006; Battaglini et al., 2007).20 On the contrary, the findings of our experiment show that simultaneous contest should be preferred over sequential contest because it generates substantially lower expenditure and thus better efficiency. Therefore, our findings provide evidence that attempts, such as „Frontloading? and „Super Tuesday?, to make presidential nomination process more like the simultaneous contest may indeed lead to more efficient political contest. [21]

The Pro Benefits

As I stated in the Introductory post for this topic, the resolution states, a one-day primary is more beneficial.  This places a burden upon the Pro to not only show the flaws in the existing system but more importantly to show the benefits of the proposed solution. So here they are...

Altschuler (2008):
Eliminating the advantages of small unrepresentative states and making every vote meaningful will lead not only to a larger but also a more representative electorate. Because every state would be represented, the electorate would certainly be more geographically representative. Turnout for the nomination contests is about one-third that of the general election, but not all groups participate in equal percentages in both. Although we cannot tell who would vote without actually having a national primary, it is likely that lower-income, less educated, and younger voters would constitute a greater percentage of the total, as they do in the general election, albeit less than their percentage of the population. The increase in the percentage of weak partisans and independents would depend on the rules, as an open primary would result in far greater growth than one which is closed. Which groups would be better represented would also depend in part on such factors as who is running, what the major issues are, and the competitiveness of the contests. [15]

The Pro debater will no doubt have a copy of the Altschuler paper in her evidence files.  Here is one important source which explains in good detail the direct advantages arising from a one-day national primary available without charge, on the Internet.

Altschuler (2008):
To sum up, a national primary would be a significant improvement over the current system. Because of the growth of front-loading, all the arguments against a national primary apply at least as well to the current system. On the positive side, a national primary would fix many of that system’s current flaws by simplifying it, increasing voter turnout, making all votes equal and meaningful, and leading to a more representative electorate. While there is a need for additional research—there always is—what we know now is more than enough to support the enactment of a national primary. [16]


Altschuler, BE. (2008) "Selecting Presidential Nominees by National Primary: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?," The Forum: Vol. 5: Iss. 4, Article 5. DOI: 10.2202/1540-8884.1206. Accessed 5/20/2016. http://www.degruyter.com/dg/viewarticle.fullcontentlink:pdfeventlink/$002fj$002ffor.2008.5.4_20120105083452$002ffor.2008.5.4$002ffor.2008.5.4.1206$002ffor.2008.5.4.1206.pdf?t:ac=j$002ffor.2008.5.4_20120105083452$002ffor.2008.5.4$002ffor.2008.5.4.1206$002ffor.2008.5.4.1206.xml

Feldman, B, (2012), Time for a National Primary Day in September, Huffington Post, 11/30/2012; accessed 5/20/2016;  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-feldman/primary-elections_b_2219848.html

Flanders, C, (2011), What Do We Want in a Presidential Primary - An Election Law Perspective, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Volume 44 | Issue 4, 2011, accesssed 5/20/2016; http://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1084&context=mjlr

Irfanogluam, ZB, Magob, SD, Sheremetac, RM (2010), Sequential versus Simultaneous Election Contests: An Experimental Study, Aug 2010; accessed 5/20/2016. http://www.krannert.purdue.edu/centers/vseel/papers/Sequential_Simultaneous.pdf

Panagopoulos, C; (2010), Are Caucuses Bad for Democracy?, Political Science Quarterly, Volume 125 Number 3 2010, accessed 5/20/2016; http://projects.iq.harvard.edu/files/cces/files/panagopoulos_psq_2010.pdf

Thompson, DF, (2010), The primary purpose of presidential
primaries. Political Science Quarterly 125(2): 205-232, 2010. Accessed 5/20/2016; https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/9637980/Thompson_Primary.pdf?sequence=2

Wattier, MJ, (2004), Presidential Primaries and Frontloading: An Empirical Polemic, Murray State University, “State of the Party: 2004 & Beyond,”, Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, University of Akron; accessed 5/20/2016, https://www.uakron.edu/bliss/docs/state-of-the-parties-documents/Wattier.pdf

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.

For more information: