Primary Politics by Elaine Karmack

book cover primary politicsPrimary Politics: How Presidential Candidates have Shaped the Modern Nominating System by Elaine Karmack (2009)

This is a book that I discovered on BookTV on March 28, 2016 that was recorded in February 2016 so the author was discussing her book in the context of the 2016 election. I hope to grasp the developed of the “rules” that the parties  developed, sometimes in collusion with state legislatures, to tweak laws to enable or disable the method by which president nominations are chosen. She mentioned the fact that when St. Ronnie was running, the state of Massachusetts had been a winner take all state and was expected to go to Gerald Ford. So the Ronnie campaign twigged to the impact of this knowing Ronnie was going to lose the popular vote, so they went to the legislature and had them CHANGE THE LAW so that it was no longer winner take all, but awarded proportional delegates.

Reminds me of Ron Paul who didn’t want to give up his Senate seat to run for president, so he had his state legislature change the law that would otherwise have prohibited him from running for office while holding another office.

She said 1824 and 1828 was when the whole system started really breaking down regarding the Electoral College.

But anyway, the Founding Fathers decided (since they did not trust the “mob”) that they would have the state legislatures decide how to run the states’ electoral process. That’s why we have the mess we have with inconsistency and capricious practices and allowing for the need for the Voting Rights act to eliminate some of the voter discrimination tactics and wrongdoing that are happening now, in part, because of Shelby gutting the Act and no longer requiring federal review of state voting procedures. That is why Arizona was able to change, suddenly and badly to having 60 polling places from 200 to 300, for a voter base that had almost tripled. Excellent video online of the Election Commission hearings on the catastrophic mess that the Presidential Preference Election was there on March 22. The Secretary of State mentions, in this hearing, that the taxpayers are paying MILLIONS of dollars for what is not even technically a primary but INDEPENDENTS are NOT allowed to vote because it is a CLOSED process. She says that the law she supported that resulted in a some of the budgeting issues was in part because she pitched that if the independents were not allowed to vote, then the taxpayers should not be paying for it, but rather the political parties. And that makes sense to me, but that doesn’t address the process flaws that by having two dominating parties essentially results in presidential candidates that are not voted for by many voters, specifically independents. One of the things I read was that the concern about letting non-party members in to vote would enable the opposite sides to vote in the primary for a, say, democratic candidate that they felt would be less of a threat to their preferred republican candidate. I don’t quite understand this because I don’t see why someone would spend their vote on a negative instead of simply voting for the candidate they want. I mean, they should not get to vote in both parties primaries.

And as this author suggested in her talk, there are lots of more rational ways to nominate and elect people, but to make any major change, like, for example, having a NATIONAL PRIMARY where we all pick on the same day, that would fix a lot of problems. Like the delegates being allocated to a majority before California even gets to vote. Plus the many other issues I am constantly aware of now that I am really invested in this election. Like our caucus system that means no one who could not attend the 2 hour window event simply didn’t get a voice. Contrast this to other states that have early voting and mail voting and absentee voting in their states.

Since we have now been through massive inequities and unjust rules and mysterious computer glitches and more FROM THE DEMOCRATIC side, never mind the circus on the right, clearly a whole lot more people are now aware of just how much the two-party system is rigged by the status quo and secret club like wheeling and dealing.

As I have said elsewhere and still am enraged, why do we no longer have a primary for the Vice President? And as pointed out elsewhere, maybe in a Facebook post, why not the Speaker of the House as well — where is it written that the Speaker must be the majority leader? I mean, it might be written in Founding documents, but if not, there is no hallowed ground to base this on given that the world has changed and more than white male property owners are capable of citizenship. Fuck originalism anyway. When there can be no Congressional work done unless the Speaker of the House is willing to bring legislation to the floor, that is NOT FUNCTIONAL for governing. Both positions are a “heartbeat away” from the Presidency, and as such, WE THE PEOPLE should be able to choose both. While at least we could pick from an elected Representative to elevate to Speaker, giving us an indirect direct vote on them, the Vice President has become a party machine pick, part of the whole, get in line and wait your turn process that rewards party loyalty and party interests above the will of the people. Previously, the party machines picked the Veep without even having input from the Presidential candidate, and they probably have veto power (though why they didn’t use it on Sarah Palin is a mystery for the ages). But before that, back in the Founding Fathers’ days, a bunch of men just ran and whoever got the most votes became President and someone that the President might not even like or agree with but who came in second got to be Vice President.

When I posed this question to some other people, one lame justification was that they had to be able to work together. I don’t think that is true. There have been many cases where the Veep was not chosen on merit or affability with the Presidential candidate, but rather to “secure the votes” of another part of the country. Thus Kennedy ended up with Lyndon Johnson of whom it was said he held in contempt. But he brought the Southern votes.

Furthermore, why shouldn’t the Veep position be just as competitive with debates and issues and so on since sometimes the majority of the country voting would have to say, Who? (Sarah Palin again) Plus their complete nuttiness might not be fully revealed until they are out in public having to speak and be coherent. Also, maybe they should be able to find Syria on a map. Or believe in evolution. Or not hold a theory that the pyramids were grain silos. And absolutely should not believe God has anointed them to be President and therefore we shall become an authoritarian theocracy where all rights are first based on God’s will (as interpreted by his holy man, Ted Cruz) and the Constitution only as a fall back but not in any way to be considered superior to the word of God as is stated clearly in the Bible. I would laugh, but given that a lot of willfully ignorant sheeple have voted for him, I now must shake my head and try not to cry. Kasich wants to have a broadcasting system to permeate the airways with Christian propaganda and aim it towards the Middle East and Russia, AND AMERICANS to convert non-believers. And don’t even get me started on the madness that is Trump and his pissed off poor white folks who are now free to hate again.

Like I have written elsewhere, our system is broken and has been broken for a long time. Common sense would say, do something else that works. I don’t think it would require a Constitutional Amendment to do so, since we have basically privatized the election process to the two major parties to run AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE  and as was seen in Arizona, the parties were reimbursed based on TOTAL REGISTERED VOTERS (including independents) who were then NOT ALLOWED TO VOTE. Closed primaries MUST BE RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL before the general so that ALL CANDIDATES MAY CHOOSE TO RUN and skip the fucking cheating and all the madness. Hell, even the Republicans would like that since they are going nuts with Trump in the lead.

I sure wish I knew what it would take to make this happen.

This is a really good book and covers historical processes, and delegate issues, and on page 108 she hits upon my outraged position, the difference between “winner take all” and “proportional” vote counting. I am one of the ones who believes that “winner take all” is wrong because it basically discards the voice of the minority or even the districts who may have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the other candidate. For example, with New York, Bernie Sanders took most of the state, except for Manhattan (aka Wall Street or Trump Village). And oddly and mysteriously, over 100,000 Brooklyn voters could not vote because these democrats had somehow been purged from the roles. Coincidence that Bernie was born in Brooklyn? Tens of thousands of people showed up at his rallies but Clinton ends up with a bunch of delegates? In this case, though I haven’t done the math, Bernie may have been able to win if it was a winner-take-all state, but then the voters for Hillary would not have any representation at all, and that would be inaccurate and unfair. Just as the rules mandating party affiliation to be able to vote and the deadline to register to be a year before the General Election and about 6 months before the primary. In other words, before people had a chance to know who all would be running.

Winner take all is one of the reasons we got W. Proportional delegates gave Jimmy Carter the nomination over long-time party machine loyalists. So the Democratic party had to change that to give the frontrunner the advantage. And they made all their rules and decisions in secret, behind closed doors, just as any good cabal does. The Hunt Commission resulted in the theoretically undeclared or perhaps unbound delegates to vote as superdelegates.

AND ALL THIS ARCANE HISTORY AND RULES THAT WERE MADE BY THE LOYAL DEMOCRATS WITH A VESTED INTEREST IN KEEPING GRASSROOTS CANDIDATES OUT ARE GOING TO MAKE THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT IN THE 2016 ELECTION. And Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an unbelievably ambitious representative from Florida (though hopefully not for long — please support her opponent, Tim Canova) has, in her role as the DNC chair, done all she could to fix the primaries to favor Hillary Clinton. And it seems like it will come down to the pay to play crowd to decide. People who are superdelegates are party loyalists and even some lobbyists have been given this privileged status!

Alas someone else has put a reserve on the book so I must return it before I can fully grasp what it means but I will probably re-reserve it so that I will know more before our State convention to which I am a delegate. I hope to have people vote for me to go on to represent Bernie Sanders voters at the National. It is funny, all these years, I didn’t really pay much attention because I have always been a straight democratic ticket voter so I did not have to know too much about how the process has worked. Now, as a die-hard Bernie supporter, the cheating, rigging, and corruption, and many aspects of the process deeply disturb me and I will work to change those aspects. Not just on the Democratic side, but the Republican side too.

For example, ALL VOTERS vote on the same day using the same machines with a backup hard copy. Or they could choose to mail in or vote online getting a serial number by which they can track that their vote is counted and not changed. None of this state by state bullshit with variable rules and exclusionary policies while getting reimbursed for full voter turnout. Consistent and neutral polling places WITH PLENTY OF FREAKING PARKING are critical to those who choose to attend the party meetings and such to elect delegates. Obviously these are only a few random ideas and a more careful reading of the whole book will help me perhaps, with more research, be able to come up with a win-win proposal.


There are many proposed alternatives to the modern nominating system as it has evolved. All of them are more rational and orderly than the hodge-podge systems that voters experience today. The most popular alternative among party leaders and elected officials is some variation on the theme of the regional primary. In contrast to votes, most of whom favor a national primary, politicians tend to value the SEQUENTIAL nature of the nomination process but seek to make the system more fair.

The preeminent reform plan is the Regional Presidential Primaries Plan. This proposal, which was adopted by the National Association of Secretaries of State in 1999, divides the country into four regions: East, South, Midwest, and West. Following a drawing by lottery to establish the initial order of voting, the first region would hold its primaries on a single date in March, the second on a single date in April, and so on. Every four years the regions would move one position in the sequence: the region that was first would go last and the other regions would move forward.

Okay, I am going to stop there. That is one of the most stupid things I have ever heard. Soooo unnecessarily complicated and does not address the fact that sequentiality is a PROBLEM fuck the the politicians favor. In fact the very fact that the politicians favor it speaks to the unacceptability of the plan. The fact that Senator Amy Klobuchar introduce such a bill into Congress in 2007 is sad. There are numerous other plans, Texas, Ohio, Delaware and Michigan and other plans. I had no idea it was even up for discussion so much!

Fascinating, on page 182 she describes another option that emphasized that no one would hold contests before March and if they haled earlier, the state would lose 50% of their delegates. How the hell that is deemed a fair voting process completely escapes me. In 2008, “four of the early states received exemptions from the DNC, and the two others — Michigan and Florida — were hit with a 50 percent penalty (after having been initially stripped of all their delegates).”

Apparently no one bothered to look at, say, how Canada manages. And I think it was on the Daily Show that the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan or someplace like that had either phone voting or online voting that took all of three minutes. Plus public funding with a maximum allowed. Mandatory equal FREE time on the public airwaves to make policy statements. NO LYING. All previewed and fact checked. No more hanging chads or ballot variations, and so much more can be done.

I am still not clear on why there is such a big deal about eliminating the sequential part of the process. Or where it came from, but she does state that something would have to be passed in Congress to make sure all the states complied.

There is considerable constitutional ambiguity surrounding Congress’s ability to play a role in this area. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in 1981 (before he was on the Court) put the issue as follows: “There are three major legal issues bearing upon the ability of the political parties to reform the presidential nominating process. First, what restrictions does the Constitution itself place upon the parties? Second, what restrictions may the states constitutionally impose?And third, what may federal legislation do, by way of restricting either the states or the parties, or by way of facilitating the nominating process. I am sorry to report the answer to none of these questions is clear.”

As discussed in chapter 1, for much of American history political parties and their activities were treated as private, not public matters. Indeed the entire pre-reform-era nomination system was essentially a semi-private, if not entirely private, enterprise. As state legislatures introduced primaries at the turn of the century, spurred on by the Progressive reform movement, the result was a certain degree of regulation through statues creating the primaries. But by and large the federal government stayed out of the business of party nominations at all levels. (p. 183)

There are a number of more excellent pages in this chapter detailing some court actions, like, “Then in 1944 the Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Allwright that political parties are state actors and cannot discriminate. ” It was in 1970 that states were granted the right to let 18-year-olds and above vote. This was mostly because we were in the midst of the Vietnam war and it was so stupid to say you could be sent to war at 18 but not able to vote. Also, you could drink alcohol at 18 but not be able to vote. And you could get married at 18 but not be able to vote. But since freaking states rights have not yet been expunged where they should be in matters relating to all citizens, you could be married at 18 but not allowed in a bar to buy a hamburger with your husband late at night in a little town when nothing else is available.

My rights should NOT depend on the state I live in. Therefore, any political process that takes place MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO DENY MY VOICE. Therefore, closed primaries are not acceptable. Mail in voting must be mandatory as well as early voting. Caucuses should be banned. All ballots should be the same and/or machines and hard copy backups must be maintained for 7 years and have a verifiable unique bar code that allows voters to confirm that their vote is counted and correctly so. The author cites the cases that support Congressional power to determine the election process, but two Court cases are cited by opponents to Congressional authority; these cases “support THE PRIMACY OF POLITICAL PARTIES in setting their own nomination rules.” [!!!!] One case requires electoral college electors to sign a loyalty to the party oath. Big surprise there. In 1974 additional details were allowed to be within the purview of the parties to make rules, including determining HOW DELEGATES ARE SEATED. — but wait, there’s more: “. . . and that such party rules TRUMP STATE LAWS.” (p. 184)

Well, I really take issue with that! I could not imagine any basis for this but then the next paragraph referenced the opinion of a law professor who was concerned about the violation of the party’s “associational rights.” The lawyer also “points to Article 2 of the Constitution, which gives Congress has the power to set the date for choosing electors, it should also have the power. . . to set the date for choosing primaries.”

This is followed by a brief discussion of case law that resulted in kind of opposite rulings. Democrats protested being forced to hold an “open” primary” based on state law and won the right to have closed primary despite the state law. This is fucking absurd. On the opposite side, Republicans wanted to open up (1986) their primary to independents and were allowed to do so in opposition to state law.

The constitutional ambiguity persists because Congress’s authority to regulate the nominating process has never been put to the test. Over the years lawmakers have introduced more than 300 bills in the House and Senate to transform the presidential nomination system and not one of them has seen the light of day. The reason is simple: members of Congress have no interest in putting themselves at odds with the leaders of their party, and party leaders have been reluctant to hand over the nomination process to Congress and thus to the federal government. (p. 185)

But this is exactly my point. There is a conflict of interest between party nomination processes and what is optimal for CITIZENS. There is also a conflict of interest with the members of Congress (a la gerrymandering) to determine the process. So it came as no surprise to me when she says that the majority of voters have “consistently supported a national primary over the past fifty years. . . .”

She says that voters haven’t much cared so that is another reason Congress has done nothing. I have to say, I am confident that lack of interest in the primary process has now jumped to a preeminent things to fix list.

Ah, she goes on to say why nothing has ever happened and probably never will: “No one is really in charge of the presidential nominating systems; there is no ‘decider.'”

Well, more research is required to see what the gamut of proposed reforms have been made. She mentions that an incentive for some states to be last and still feel their votes count, would be winner-take-all for them. But again, that isn’t right, and second the fact is that the system disenfranchises too many people as it stands with no justification for the variable rules that have different impacts on voters rendering some votes more equal than others.

The only serious reform must allow all registered voters to vote for whomever they want, all at the same time, and with exactly the same ballot designs, machines, and early voting and extended hours of voting in person with a minimum number of polling places so that no one has to wait in a line more than 10 minutes long.




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