Halfway through the 2016 presidential primaries, we can all look back and be proud of how the democratic process worked again, just like it’s supposed to. Republicans and Democrats came together in a fair and open process to select the person they wanted to lead their party to victory in November. Right?
Wrong! I can’t believe I’m actually writing these words, but: Donald Trump is right. About this one thing, at least: The primary process is rigged. By both parties, but especially by the Republican Party. And the system badly needs fixing.
There’s no one national set of rules for voting in the primaries. Instead, there are 100 different sets of rules. The Democratic and Republican party of each state sets its own rules on who may vote in their primary and who may not.
There are only a handful of experts who know the rules in every state, but we’ve all seen enough from the 2016 primaries to know that for both parties, the rules are anything but uniform. In some states, the primary’s a level playing field. In others, it operates like a snooty, closed-door private club. In a few, it’s downright undemocratic and crooked.
In six states or territories American Samoa, Guam, North Dakota, Wyoming, the Virgin Islands, and Colorado there’s no primary at all. Instead, delegates are chosen at a closed, state party convention. At the state convention in Colorado Springs on April 9, for example, the Colorado Republican Party awarded Ted Cruz all 34 of its delegates without allowing any vote to be taken at all after which party staffers tweeted: “We did it. #Never Trump.” Whether you like Donald Trump or not, that’s hardly a fair process.For Democrats, Colorado wasn’t a whole lot better, because Colorado, like Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming and Kansas, is a caucus state. Bernie Sanders may have won most caucus states so far, but the caucus formula, by its very nature, is still essentially undemocratic. Why? Because caucuses are held on one day only, are often closed to all but party members and require attending, in person, for as long as three or four hours, thereby automatically disenfranchising millions of voters who can’t show up at that time, in that place or stay that long.
But even some primary states are rigged. This week’s New York Democratic primary was one of the worst. Because only registered Democrats could participate, more than 3 million Independents could not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, nor could millions of new voters, because the deadline for registering to vote on April 19, 2016 was October 9, 2015, 193 days before the primary. This week, the comptroller for the city of New York and the state attorney general both launched investigations into the New York primary process.
There are countless other examples of unfair state primary procedures, most of which have festered for years with little public scrutiny or complaint. But now that this year’s hotly contested primaries have put such inequities under the spotlight, leaders of both parties should get to work, once this election is behind us, building a more equitable and just primary system that will encourage, not discourage, voter participation.
Here’s a good start: 1) End the absurd primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire. There’s no reason they should be first. They do not reflect the American electorate. Replace them with rotating, regional primaries. 2) Ban all caucuses. Require each state to have a primary in which anybody can vote, preferably with early voting and same-day registration. 3) Either do away with superdelegates or require them to vote for the candidate who wins their state primary.
Party elitists will fight to maintain closed primaries and deny access to Independent voters, but here’s why they’re wrong. Neither party can win the general election without the support of Independents. According to the latest Gallup poll, only 25 percent of all registered voters are Republican; 31 percent are Democrats; yet 44 percent are Independents. If you expect Independents to support your candidate in November, you have to let them vote in the primary in April.
Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show, CNN political analyst, and the author of a new book, “Buyer’s Remorse.”