Nebraskans Now Know What Iowans Feel Like; South Dakotans Still Jealous


My Nebraska in-laws and their relatives are all having the time of their lives, with some of them voting in a primary for the first time in their lives.

Now think about that for a minute. Think what it must be like for a person from Nebraska. You’re right next door to the state which gets the ball rolling on America’s election campaign. Iowa gets the candidates, the coverage, the whole shebang. And then the candidates all go to New Hampshire. And then to South Carolina. And then to Super Tuesday.

And, usually, by Super Tuesday, both parties have picked their nominee. So when primary season finally rolls around to Nebraska… it doesn’t mean anything anymore.

Still, at least Nebraskans aren’t South Dakotans, who vote alongside Montana on June 3rd as the last two primaries before the national conventions. Not only do they vote long after the race is decided, these small states don’t have all that many delegates to ofter. I have in-laws in South Dakota as well. I somehow doubt that they will be voting.

What exactly happens to these states when their primaries do not matter? I mean, they still have to choose delegates who show up wherever the national convention is and go through the motions of casting their ballots. How many people turn up to vote? Do they even bother to have a vote? Or do the people who straggle up to the voting booth end up getting a free ticket and meal plan to the national convention as those states’ delegates?

Anyway, big night for Obama, so far, although the Louisiana results still have to come in. And the Nebraskans in particular really took to the democratic process with aplomb. Erin’s uncle Shannon and his wife Michelle had to cram themselves into a gym with almost a thousand other people, he estimates, to cast their votes for their favourite Democrats.

It’s also very, very significant that Obama carried all three congressional districts in the state. You have to understand that in Nebraska, there is Omaha, and there is the rest of the state. And, given the demographics, it was no surprise to have Obama take Omaha. The results were closer elsewhere in the state, but Obama still won in Lincoln and in the rural west. That’s really significant.

I have my fingers crossed that Obama might pull this out, although Louisiana might end up closer than people expect. CNN was analysing the state based on the 2004 primary season, rather inconveniently forgetting the major demographic shifts that took place just one year later. We shall see.

(Update: 10:40): I see that Louisiana has gone for Obama as well, as have the Virgin Islands, making for a clean sweep today.)

But I think the real victor here has been democracy in the United States, full stop. States that didn’t rate and which probably didn’t pay attention at this time of year are learning that every vote counts, and they’re getting excited about exercising their democratic rights. That sort of lesson is worth its weight in gold. Let’s hope it’s not soon forgotten.

The fact that Montana and South Dakota run the nation’s last two primaries on June 3rd illustrate to me just how whacked out the American primary system is. There is a real need for reform here.

Now, there is method to the madness in having states like Iowa and New Hampshire go first. A democracy as large as the United States needs to take extraordinary steps in order to ensure that it remains close to the people. Concentrating the start of a national campaign in a state like Iowa levels the playing field somewhat between a candidate with not a lot of money, and a billionaire. The big problem with a single national primary, or having a big state like Michigan or Florida move their primary dates up too early, is that the race for president becomes the exclusive purview of the rich, moreso than it is now. To have any hope that the election isn’t dominated by First Families like the Bushes or the Clintons or the Romneys or the Kerrys, the first primary states should be small, so that campaigns can remain small, and everyone has a chance to build momentum.

But why does the first state have to be Iowa all the time? And why does South Dakota have to wait until the very end? A more sensible solution would be to sort the states in order from smallest to largest, and break them into blocks of ten. The small ten are then randomized, and their primaries are distributed on the Tuesdays of January, one on the first week, two on the second week, three on the third week, and four on the fourth. Then, in February, the next ten go, all building until the large ten states compete, perhaps on a single day early in May — a real Super Tuesday.

That makes more sense to me, and it is still conducive to grassroots democracy. But, of course, the primary system is a complicated tug-of-war between the various states and the national parties. The chances of everybody agreeing to any plan, no matter how sensible, is next to impossible. Oh, well.

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