For Howard Dean supporters expecting a
rally at the Michigan League today, disappointment awaits. In an
attempt to stir voter activity among college students, Dean and
other candidates planned to campaign in Ann Arbor and other
Michigan towns, but in a struggle to capture the nomination, they
have backed out of their plans, claiming that their prospects seem
more hopeful in other states. This unfortunate turn of events sheds
light on the flaws within the current primary process and the
damages caused by the front-loaded primary season.
This year, the Michigan caucuses are the earliest they have ever
been, Feb. 7. But many voters want to move the date forward again,
to Jan. 27, the same day as the New Hampshire primary. It seems
that moving the date once again will only exacerbate the current
problem. While the date change will probably help Michigan, it will
also set a dangerous precedent. Many other states will follow suit,
leading to an even more front-loaded system. If anything, this year
serves to illustrate the damage caused by front-loading.
The most apparent problem is that once the first few primaries
are over, it is usually clear which candidate has won the
nomination. This makes it difficult and costly for candidates to
recover from early losses. If the dates were more spread out,
candidates would have more of a chance to win in other states.
Furthermore, now voters are less inclined to vote because they
assume the frontrunner is the winner. Frontloading also influences
the media, which practices “horserace” journalism and
consequently provides inaccurate coverage, making it difficult for
voters to form thoughtful opinions on each candidate.
Michigan, a “swing state” with a diverse electorate,
could also provide votes that potential nominees need to boost
their support. Unlike the national election, where the winner takes
all, even a runner-up can walk away from the Michigan primary with
a few delegates. Furthermore, Michigan will prove key in the 2004
national election. By snubbing Michigan now, many candidates run
the danger of angering Democratic voters, who will not be as eager
to turn out in November. These are the same candidates who strove
to revolutionize the political process through online
“blogs” and unprecedented voter outreach.
It is unfair for voters to be denied equal attention from all
the candidates. In an ideal democracy, every citizen will vote, and
every vote will count. What message are these candidates sending by
changing plans at the last minute and disappointing their
supporters? In light of this, it is no surprise that Michigan
voters want to change the date of the caucuses once again —
they hope an early date will mean that Michigan receives the
attention it rightly deserves. Unfortunately, as this year’s
experience has shown, front-loading the primaries helps nobody. A
massive overhaul of the nomination system — the establishment
as an evenly distributed, rotating primary schedule — will be
needed for truly positive change to occur.