Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nominating process

There's all sorts of talk right now about whether the slowed-down nominating process the Republicans put in place in 2008 was a good idea. I don't care. I'm more interested in the brokenness of the process in general. I'm pro electoral college (and, in fact, think we ought to have some of the electors sent there by state legislatures like we used to do with Senators) so it may come as a surprise that the non-representative nature of the nominating process really bothers me. The problem is that the electoral college was designed to give some relief to the less populace states in our federation on the choosing of the President. That makes sense. The nominating process doesn't seem designed at all.

At present nearly 10% of Romney's delegates are from territories that don't get to vote for President. I'm actually opposed to our permanently retaining territories that are never going to become states, but if the purpose of the nominating convention is to win the Presidency, do we really care what people who can't vote for President think? I'd be okay with in if they got some nominal vote, but the people of the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands together get as many votes as New Hampshire (which, admittedly, has an oversized influence because of when it votes).

Only fourteen of the 60 States or districts who have primaries or caucuses are closed. In the rest either Democrats can help select the Republican representative (I'm sure they will have only the best interests of Republicans in mind) or you have to at least not be party affiliated. Though if you're in a semi-closed state the chance you're going to register with a party is pretty much zero. I would not only have closed primaries, I would require that you have been registered with the party for at least two 30 months.

California and New York, states where the Republican nominee is guaranteed zero electoral votes, are two of the three largest delegations to the convention (Texas is number 2). On top of that nearly half of the California and New York delegates (123 out of 261) come from districts that are 60% or more Democrat. According to Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics, 8 districts from Los Angeles County cast just barely more votes in the 2002 Gubernatorial primary as a single majority-republican district. Yet they would get 8 times as much influence in the nominating process. To make matters worse, California is an open primary, so nobody is checking whether the delegates from Nancy Pelosi's district even reflect the desire of the Republican who lives there. I'm not saying we shouldn't care about these people's voice in the primary, but we shouldn't care a lot more about Republican's in Nancy Pelosi's district than those in Paul Ryan's.

On the flip side, the current procedures give extra bonus delegates to majority Republican states. Unlike the issues with allocating delegates based on general-population district lines that in lots of cases were intentionally drawn to polarize towards one party or the other, I can see why this makes sense. The nominee is supposed to be somebody who represents the will of the Republican electorate, so it makes sense to give bonuses to majority Republican states. But the nominee is also supposed to be somebody who can actually win the Presidency. Given that the important thing is winning the electoral college in the fall, wouldn't it make sense to give similar (or even greater) bonus delegates to the states with the closest elections in the past Presidential election? Hugh Hewitt has recommended at least once having the nominee determined only by the closest states. That seems like a recipe for a splintered party to me. It's one thing to give extra credit to electorally important states, it's another entirely to say to Texas or Georgia that the party doesn't care what you think, we're going to find a moderate who does well in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

We also have a bunch of unbound delegates who got their position through some previous party position. I actually don't have a problem with these. The "super delegates" bring some of the horse trading in order to get the desires of various factions of the party fulfilled while finding the most likely candidate to actually secure the election into the convention. If it's a close call, that's a role I don't mind seeing.

If I were head of the primary process, I would allocate votes among the states based on the number of popular votes they cast for the Republican in the prior election. Then I would give a bunch of extra votes to the 4 closest states. The national convention needs some way of allocating votes within states other than congressional districts which are drawn based on general population and frequently drawn to intentionally skew towards one party or the other. I would suggest something like forcing proportional distribution based on the entire states' returns. I would love to draw districts, but you would need special districts established for the purpose if you wanted to fairly district among just one party, and that doesn't seem practical.