Voting for the Democratic presidential primary officially began on Feb. 3 with the Iowa caucuses. However, politicos’ excitement quickly turned to dismay and confusion as severe technical issues delayed results and threw the political world into chaos. This all begs a simple question — surely there’s a better system, right?
Thankfully, the solution is also simple. Every state should vote at the same time with a ranked-choice system. This would ensure that the needs of all Americans are heard and shorten the primary season.
Some might argue that a primary season over several months allows voters to realign themselves behind viable candidates. However, the same could be accomplished in a national primary simply through ranked-choice voting.
In a ranked-choice voting system, voters mark the order of their preferences so their vote can still count if their favorite candidate loses. For example, a voter might mark Sen. Elizabeth Warren as their favorite candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders as their second-favorite. If Warren loses, this voter’s ballot would be added to Sanders’ vote total.
Iowa’s place at the head of the primary calendar gives the state a large amount of influence over the results. Candidates who do well in Iowa can receive favorable media coverage, boosting them in voters’ eyes and helping their poll numbers.
This is an issue because Iowa is not representative of the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Iowa is 90.7% white, much higher than the country as a whole, which is 76.5% white. Its economy is also much more dependent on agriculture than the rest of the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only California had a larger agricultural output in terms of cash outputs in 2018.
Iowa is also unlike Georgia. Only 60.5% of Georgia’s population is white. And, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, Georgians are also much more likely to live in urban areas than Iowans. Because candidates actively tailor their messages to the Hawkeye state’s needs, the needs of other states like Georgia are valued less. In a time when Democrats are stressing the need for greater diversity and inclusivity, it feels odd to give such an unrepresentative state so much power over our politics.
Holding all primaries on the same day avoids this problem. The primaries would be finished all at once, preventing one state’s results from affecting another’s.
Admittedly, it’s possible candidates would focus on bigger states with more voters and ignore smaller states in this system. That’s not ideal, but I’d prefer for campaigns to find ways to reach as many voters as possible instead of simply speaking to those who live in early states.
Beyond the more egalitarian results, a shorter primary season offers benefits all on its own. For example, it allows candidates to avoid messy, divisive intraparty fights and instead focus their attention and funds on the general election.
It would also reduce the seemingly endless campaigning. It felt like there was no time between the 2018 midterm elections and the start of the 2020 campaign.
As a politics junkie, I might be predisposed to campaign fatigue, but there are practical reasons why the endless campaign is harmful too. Because politicians have to always be on the trail, there’s less time for them to do their jobs. Some presidential candidates have struggled to balance their responsibilities to their constituents with their electoral needs.
All primary systems have drawbacks, but a ranked-choice national primary would fix many of the problems that plague our current system. The U.S. should do away with the awkward, clumsy primary process that gives Iowa too much power and hold all of its primary elections at once.