Michigan suddenly has the first primary in the country. Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a bill Tuesday that will move the state’s primary from February 26 to January 15, just one day after the Iowa caucus. While an earlier primary in the state would seemingly make Michigan a battleground for presidential campaigns, the exact opposite is more likely. Many Democrats are refusing to campaign in Michigan, in part because the Democratic National Committee has said it may not count Michigan’s delegates at its nominating convention. The Republican National Committee has threatened to dispose of half of Michigan’s delegates. The rescheduling of Michigan’s primary has brought undue controversy to a state that already has enough to deal with.
Aside from the fact that the Michigan legislature should be focusing on other more important issues than the state’s primary date (funding higher education, for example), the bill itself also comes with its share of problems. After passing in the state Senate, the House added amendments that make the funding for the primary come out of Michigan’s general fund. Michigan tax money – upwards of $10 million – will provide funding for a process designed to give parties unprecedented power. The state’s Republican and Democratic parties will be given information like voters’ personal information and party preferences. The parties will have complete control of and can also sell the information to whom they please.
The move is also likely to make other states move up their primaries. New Hampshire, for example, is mandated by its state constitution to hold the nation’s first primary. This national trend to move primaries closer to December adds even more frenzy to an already overlong and arduous campaign process. The primary system is becoming more wasteful of time and money, both for the candidates and the country.
The tendency of states to move their primaries forward also demonstrates the flaws of the process itself. With each subsequent presidential campaign starting earlier than the previous one, a new, fairer system is long overdue. Finally, lawmakers seem to be coming to this realization. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have proposed a regional plan, where different regions of the country take turns being first to host primaries, starting in March.
Another plan – quite possibly the fairest – would have every state hold its primary on the same day, just like the general election. This would allow all states the same exposure and all candidates the same opportunity to target the states most likely to support them, instead of having to campaign in a state just because it has the first primary.
The governor had good intentions for Michigan when she signed this bill, hoping it will bring Michigan’s key issues to the forefront of the campaign. Unfortunately those intentions will almost certainly be overshadowed. With some candidates avoiding the state altogether, voter turnout and the national significance of the Michigan primary will decline. But as Nelson said, “Out of this chaos, order must be brought.”