Primary process

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(Host) Pundits sometimes compare the primary process to a horse race. Commentator Traci Griffith says this might not be the best way to select our candidates.

(Griffith) The official primary season is off to an interesting start. John Kerry’s last minute surge to win both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary surprised some, not the least of which was Howard Dean, the front runner for the early part of the campaign season.

But I’m not surprised at all, because this is what can happen when roughly 120,000 people in Iowa and a little more that 200,000 in New Hampshire basically set the political tone for the next few months. Who are these people and who gives them the right to determine who we (those of us who have primaries later in the season) can vote for?

You may wonder exactly how these voters are affecting our votes. They are affecting our votes, by limiting our choices. Less than one in four registered Democrats cast votes in Iowa, but as a result of those votes, Dick Gephardt has dropped out of contention. Those voters basically told him that he had no chance, and they told us that we had no choice.

There’s been much speculation as to who may fall by the wayside next, Kucinich, Lieberman, Sharpton, Edwards. There has been a lot of talk about a lack of funds in their campaigns and a lot of negative national press about their chances of competing against Kerry or Dean.

Before the caucuses and primaries move into the more populated and more diverse areas of the country, the voters may only have one or two democrats to choose from.

So what’s the big deal? Democrats want to elect the one person who stands the best chance of winning against an incumbent Republican president, right? Well the problem is that the two early trend setting tests of the election season are held in northern, largely rural, and overwhelmingly white states. By the time the primaries move south, where voters in large, diverse cities may have very different preferences and concerns, southerners in states like Georgia, Mississippi, or Florida may have fewer choices. The candidate who may have better addressed their issues is no longer in the race, eliminated by the votes of just over 300,000 northern white Democrats.

So what’s the solution to this problem? How could the primary and caucus system more accurately reflect the will of all of the people and assure a nominee who will represent all of the diverse aspects of his party? How about having primaries in different regions of the country on the same day? The first primary could be held in Iowa, New Hampshire, Missouri, Utah and Florida all on the same day. This plan would give an equal voice to a diverse cross section of the population. This diverse group would then set the tone for the national election. Somehow this seems more equitible than the current system.

I’m Traci Griffith of Williston.

Traci Griffith is a Professor of Journalism at Saint Michael’s College.

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