How about a lottery to decide the first primary state?

Jim Yardley
Every four years the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire win the electoral lottery. They have (respectively) the first caucus and the first primary in the country, and set the electoral trend for the rest of us.There is a little problem with those two states having the ability to effectively speak for the entire country. The problem is that Iowa only has approximately 0.5% of the voters in the country, and New Hampshire has just over 1.1%. That seems like a very small percentage of voters is setting the direction for the remaining 98% of the country.

Yes, other primary states can overwhelm whoever wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, but if the Iowa caucus had buried Barack Obama, does anyone think he would be president today? Does the word "momentum" mean anything to us?

And, as a nation, we are subjected to this political kabuki theater every four years. States with significantly larger populations are effectively relegated to the status of second-class citizens by our method of selecting candidates. Up until the 2008 primaries, Pennsylvania, for example, which generally has scheduled its primary late in the season, has been a "why-did-you-bother" state. The presidential candidate selection process for both parties has frequently been finalized before the Pennsylvania polls opened. In 2008, and only because of the tight race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, did the Pennsylvania presidential primaries become important. Naturally, there are state-wide, and local primary contests that have to be settled, but if that were the only criteria, all 50 states could schedule their primaries on the same day.

The following rather simple plan to change the primary schedule, would eliminate the disproportionate influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in presidential political campaigns.

Since the several states force their citizens to pay for the primaries, it is really up to the states to decide when such primaries be scheduled. And I mean the state, as a whole. Not the State Party chairmen, not the Democratic or Republican National Committees, the general populace of each state. I believe the governors of all fifty states could meet in a relatively small room at an (inexpensive) hotel and hammer this out in one day, or at most two.

A lottery would be held every four years, on the day following election day for the mid-term elections. The names of all fifty states would be drawn, one at a time, and the first five names would be assigned the first presidential primary date in the nation. The second group of five would be assigned the next date, two weeks after the first, and so on. This would give all the states the same chance to influence the momentum of the various candidates in both parties. To assure the remaining states that same opportunity, those states that were pulled first in 2010, for instance, would be eliminated from being among the first five in 2014. That way there would never be another Iowa/New Hampshire situation of disproportionate impact on the presidential primaries. This would be particularly important for any election cycle where a sitting president was being challenged in the primaries. If, let us say, State "X" had started the momentum building for President Smith in 2016, it would not be in a position to repeat that feat in 2020.

Naturally there would be resistance to this idea, based on the desire of each state to be a "king-maker", but assuming that all fifty governors voted on this proposal that would give each state an equal opportunity for that role, it is very likely that the proposal would be carried - by a vote of 48 Ayes, and only two Nays. Anyone care to guess which two states would vote to keep the current system?


Every four years the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire win the electoral lottery. They have (respectively) the first caucus and the first primary in the country, and set the electoral trend for the rest of us.

There is a little problem with those two states having the ability to effectively speak for the entire country. The problem is that Iowa only has approximately 0.5% of the voters in the country, and New Hampshire has just over 1.1%. That seems like a very small percentage of voters is setting the direction for the remaining 98% of the country.

Yes, other primary states can overwhelm whoever wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, but if the Iowa caucus had buried Barack Obama, does anyone think he would be president today? Does the word "momentum" mean anything to us?

And, as a nation, we are subjected to this political kabuki theater every four years. States with significantly larger populations are effectively relegated to the status of second-class citizens by our method of selecting candidates. Up until the 2008 primaries, Pennsylvania, for example, which generally has scheduled its primary late in the season, has been a "why-did-you-bother" state. The presidential candidate selection process for both parties has frequently been finalized before the Pennsylvania polls opened. In 2008, and only because of the tight race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, did the Pennsylvania presidential primaries become important. Naturally, there are state-wide, and local primary contests that have to be settled, but if that were the only criteria, all 50 states could schedule their primaries on the same day.

The following rather simple plan to change the primary schedule, would eliminate the disproportionate influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in presidential political campaigns.

Since the several states force their citizens to pay for the primaries, it is really up to the states to decide when such primaries be scheduled. And I mean the state, as a whole. Not the State Party chairmen, not the Democratic or Republican National Committees, the general populace of each state. I believe the governors of all fifty states could meet in a relatively small room at an (inexpensive) hotel and hammer this out in one day, or at most two.

A lottery would be held every four years, on the day following election day for the mid-term elections. The names of all fifty states would be drawn, one at a time, and the first five names would be assigned the first presidential primary date in the nation. The second group of five would be assigned the next date, two weeks after the first, and so on. This would give all the states the same chance to influence the momentum of the various candidates in both parties. To assure the remaining states that same opportunity, those states that were pulled first in 2010, for instance, would be eliminated from being among the first five in 2014. That way there would never be another Iowa/New Hampshire situation of disproportionate impact on the presidential primaries. This would be particularly important for any election cycle where a sitting president was being challenged in the primaries. If, let us say, State "X" had started the momentum building for President Smith in 2016, it would not be in a position to repeat that feat in 2020.

Naturally there would be resistance to this idea, based on the desire of each state to be a "king-maker", but assuming that all fifty governors voted on this proposal that would give each state an equal opportunity for that role, it is very likely that the proposal would be carried - by a vote of 48 Ayes, and only two Nays. Anyone care to guess which two states would vote to keep the current system?