Foss: Presidential nominating process needs to change

People arrive to vote at Rye Elementary School in Rye, N.H., on Tuesday
People arrive to vote at Rye Elementary School in Rye, N.H., on Tuesday

Categories: News, Opinion

It’s the day of the New Hampshire presidential primary, which means I’ve been contacting friends and family to find out who they’re voting for. 

I don’t get to vote myself, being a resident of New York, so I live vicariously through others. 

I also marvel at my home state’s outsized role in nominating presidential candidates — something I took for granted growing up in the Granite State, but now find amazing, and kind of bizarre. 

Nearly 900 people turned out at my high school over the weekend to see Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg speak. 

That’s amazing. 

And, frankly, kind of bizarre! 

There’s no question that hosting the first primary in the nation is fun and exciting. 

It’s also a big responsibility — one New Hampshire residents take seriously. In 2016, the state had the highest primary turnout of any state, with 52 percent of registered voters casting ballots. That’s impressive. If I still lived in New Hampshire, I’d relish the opportunity to join them at the polls. 

I don’t live in New Hampshire, though. 

I’ve now spent more than half my life in other states, and with each passing year the presidential nominating process seems increasingly absurd, antiquated and unfair. 

There’s just no particular reason New Hampshire, Iowa and a handful of other early primary and caucus state should get to play kingmaker every four years, while the vast majority of states are rendered almost completely irrelevant. 

The entire system needs to be revamped, as the fiasco with the Iowa caucuses helped make painfully clear. 

Those defending it will argue that giving two small states such big roles provides an invaluable opportunity for retail politics, where candidates meet rank-and-file voters in intimate settings like the high school gymnasium where I once attended physical education classes. 

I’m a big fan of retail politics, but I still see no reason why Iowa and New Hampshire should always go first. 

It should be possible to restructure the presidential nominating contest so that it better represents all 50 states, and the diverse mix of people who live in them. 

Neither New Hampshire nor Iowa is very diverse — African-Americans make up less than 2 percent of the Granite State’s population and less than 5 percent of Iowa’s. Both states are older than the rest of the country, and more rural. 

None of which means Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn’t have a say in who the next president is. 

But why should they have so much more say than everyone else? 

(One political scientist, William Mayer, has estimated that winning New Hampshire increases a candidate’s expected share of the primary vote by 27 percentage points.)

I’d love to see New York, which will hold its presidential primary in April this year, play a bigger role in the nominating process. 

The Empire State is racially diverse, and has a nice mix of urban, suburban and rural areas. Critics will say that voter engagement is lacking because turnout is low. I say that making the state’s primary matter will increase voter engagement and turnout. 

That said, I’m not arguing that New York should have first in the nation primary status. 

I don’t think any state should have that. 

I’d rather see rotating groups of states or regions vote first, so that every state has the chance to play a meaningful role in selecting the presidential nominees. Some have proposed a national primary. I’m open to this idea, too. 

I love the New Hampshire primary, but I can’t defend it. 

It’s time for a new, more democratic system. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.    


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