2020 Primary Planners Should Follow the NBA's Lead

2020 Primary Planners Should Follow the NBA's Lead
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File
Story Stream
recent articles

I live in a state – California – that suffers from a lack of presidential self-esteem.

To the extent the Golden State was involved in 2016 in deciding the next leader of the Free World, it was presidential wannabes summiting in Burbank with the Leader of Free Afternoon Television – Ellen DeGeneres.

Well, that and a mother lode of campaign money strip-mined in the greater Southland of California and the filthy-rich Bay Area.

California’s legislative leaders have decided that one way to rebuild the nation-state’s fragile political psyche is to advance California’s next presidential primary from June to March in 2020. Two bills passed earlier this month by California’s State Legislature do exactly that (one bill will have to clear both chambers, then receive Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature for this to happen).

But keep in mind: California’s not alone in this thinking.

Eighteen states have yet to commit to the 2020 election calendar. And should the nation’s most-populous state try to cut to the front of the line, drafting behind Iowa and New Hampshire, other states will do the same. In 2008, California’s primary crept up to February. Six other states pushed further ahead, with the Golden State eventually ensnared in a “Super Tuesday” of 22 other states.

How then to settle who goes when in the next presidential sweepstakes? Having just watched the NBA’s draft lottery, maybe we should arrange the selection process for the presidency in the same way that league decides which team gets the first crack at signing Lonzo Ball (speaking of California and a diva attitude).

I’ve pitched this idea before, after presidential elections that gave us unsatisfying results. Given that 2016 has taken us to new depths, here’s trying again:

Rule 1: No presidential primaries or caucuses until the first Monday in April. Let the public have a peaceful winter breaking resolutions, watching the Super Bowl and reveling in baseball’s spring training; better for America’s mental health if we sacrifice presidential politics for Lent. Besides, reporters won’t miss navigating the icy roads of Iowa and New England.

Rule 2: No big-footing by California, Florida and the like. Start the selection process in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. They reflect four regions with distinctly different economies and cultures – a lily-white electorate in New Hampshire, growing Hispanic clout in Nevada; agriculture in Iowa, free trade in non-union South Carolina. It makes for a level playing field.

Rule 3: Once those four states have rendered their verdicts, the competition goes nationwide beginning in May. For six consecutive Tuesdays, primaries are held each week in seven randomly chosen states that reflect the following mix:

  • one "mega" state* (minimum of 18 electoral votes);
  • two midsized states** (minimum of 10 electoral votes);
  • three smaller states*** (four to nine electoral votes);
  • one small state**** (only three electoral votes)

Then, on the seventh Tuesday, with but five primaries remaining, the mix would be one "mega" state, two midsized states and two small states.

Some time ago, I conducted such a blind lottery. Here's how the system played out:
April 6: Iowa
April 14: Nevada
April 21: New Hampshire
April 28: South Carolina
May 5: Ohio, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, Oregon, Alaska
May 12: Illinois, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Idaho, Rhode Island, North Dakota
May 19: California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, South Dakota
May 26: Florida, Virginia, Minnesota, Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, District of Columbia
June 2: Texas, New Jersey, Indiana, Nebraska, Utah, Arkansas, Wyoming
June 9: New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Connecticut, Mississippi, West Virginia, Vermont
June 16: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Delaware, Montana

Obviously, not every state would be pleased by this schedule. California, as per usual, would vote later in the process than presently desired. Florida would bristle at the notion of waiting until half of the nation’s 50 states have had their say.

Still, there are ways to address the fairness system. Just as NBA lottery rules guarantee that the team with the worst record goes no lower than fourth in the draft, our primary lottery could offer a similar protection. States that vote in the sixth and seventh weeks in 2020, for example, could be guaranteed a slot no lower than, say, the fourth week in 2024. Lest anyone starts screaming “fix”, a la Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks, the states leading off in May 2020 couldn’t do the same four years later.

There are three benefits to such a system. First, it would end the current front-loaded process. Second, it ends the cries for a one-day national primary that would unfairly reward better-known, better-financed candidates. Finally, by taking the primaries well into June, it makes the wait for the summer’s national conventions less insufferable.

Granted, this is pure whim – for financial and partisan reasons, some states will balk at the idea of fiddling with their primary dates. But is anyone pleased with the current system?

We don’t need to hold a lottery to find that answer.

* The 7 "mega"-states (18+ EVs): California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas

** The 14 "mid-sized" states (10-19 EVs): Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin

*** The 18 "smaller" states (4-9 EVs): Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia

**** The 8 "small" states (3 EVs): Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, Washington, D.C. (I know, I know . . . technically, not a state)

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow who follows California and national politics, and host of Hoover’s “Area 45” podcast on the Trump presidency. He can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.


Show commentsHide Comments