1. National Primary Day

Under this plan, all states would hold their primary or caucus on the same day-a pre-election Election Day. The idea was introduced as early as 1913 by Woodrow Wilson but has gained little momentum. For all intents and purposes, as front-loading increases as a trend, the nation seems to be naturally moving in the direction of what amounts to a national primary. "You had 20 states in February in '96. You had 35 states in February 2000. I predict you will have 39 states in February 2004," said Sansonetti. "So, it is shifting to what is basically a national primary. It is a de facto national primary right now."18

This plan would almost certainly increase salience and turnout in primaries and caucuses. More Americans would believe that they had a say in choosing the candidates for president. However, it would almost certainly minimize direct contact between candidates and voters. Campaigns would be waged on the national level, primarily through paid and free media, making it virtually impossible for candidates without personal fortune or establishment backing to compete. Depending upon the specifics of implementation (such as whether independents and swing-voters would be allowed to participate) a national primary day could keep party nominees more in line with mainstream views. Success in such a contest would provide strong evidence of electability. Party rank and file, and perhaps independent voters, would be able to exert their undiluted preferences on presidential nominees, an unsettling prospect for the party elites. Such a distribution of power could hamper the formation of core party platforms-often the hallmark of viable presidential candidates. Understandably, the parties are reluctant to discuss this sort of plan, partly because it would diffuse control over the selection of their nominee, undermining the exclusive and predictable hierarchy of conventions. An event of this magnitude would also render the conventions even more of a non-event than they are today. The last serious dialogue addressing a national presidential primary was silenced in 1970 by the Democrats' Commission of Party Structure and Delegate Selection.

2. The Delaware Plan

The Delaware Plan is the brainchild of Delaware GOP state chairman Basil Battaglia. Under the Delaware Plan, the states would be grouped into four "pods" according to population, as determined by the decennial census. The smallest thirteen states would go first, followed by the next smallest thirteen states, then the twelve medium-sized states and finally the twelve largest states.

Small states like Delaware and North Dakota hold primaries or caucuses in February or March, and the process continues until the largest states, including California, Texas, and New York, vote in May or June. States remain free to chose between a primary or a caucus and can schedule their event at any time during their appointed month. They are also free to drop back later in the nomination calendar, although they may not move forward.

The plan passed the Republican National Committee Rules Committee in early 2000 but failed at the July 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia. Sansonetti told the Symposium that he believes the plan has a chance to pass in time for the 2004 primaries, but success will take cooperation between the White House and the Republican Party.

The Delaware Plan boasts several advantages and addresses the problem of front-loading. Battaglia and other proponents defend the plan as the logical way to encourage voter participation and discourage front-loading, while giving small states an opportunity to play an important role in the process.

Letting the smallest states begin the contest, "allows a grassroots campaign to catch fire. The Jimmy Carter example in '76, the Gary Hart example from'84, the Eugene McCarthy example for that matter in 1968," said Sansonetti.19 This plan can help lesser known and under-funded candidates gain momentum from victories in the smaller "pods." This will also diminish, although not eliminate, the benefits of homesteading years in advance, since seven or eight states will head the pack instead of just one.

A article notes that "Plan backers say it will preserve the 'retail' side of politics, keeping candidates down on the ground talking to people where they live and work, not just up on the airwaves through expensive television ads."20 It could extend the direct attention of grassroots campaigning enjoyed by citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire to the other small states in the nation.

Having several small states in which to mount grassroots campaigns gives more candidates a chance to post a win in the first pod. However, having thirteen small, geographically separate states in the first grouping makes it very difficult to wage a sizeable effort in every state. This may force candidates to choose a few markets deemed more viable, leaving other states out in the cold.

The Delaware Plan aims to lengthen the process, giving voters a chance to observe and follow the candidates through a period of three or four months instead of a quick five or six weeks. Plan supporters argue that candidates will have a chance to prove their mettle because only 9 percent of all delegates (in the GOP plan) would be chosen in the first round. This means it is likely that the eventual winner would not be decided until the later rounds, maybe even in the final round, which determines 50.5 percent of convention delegates, according to Sansonetti.21

Opponents argue that money will still play too large a role in the selection of a nominee for president. Even the first rounds, with relatively small states spread across the nation, may prove expensive. Candidates will have to last longer in the race, from a five- or six-week scrimmage to a three- or four-month marathon; therefore, the key to staying in the race is money. However, an extended race could help lesser-funded candidates by giving them time to build on any momentum they can muster in the small states. Often candidates drop out despite voter interest and a good early showing in the polls because there was simply not enough time to fundraise and organize for later contests. The Delaware Plan may address this time-crunch problem.

Delaware Plan proponents argue that instead of just one winner, there could be multiple winners in the Plan's first contests. Because a win in New Hampshire or Iowa could propel a candidate's campaign into high gear, having several New Hampshires and Iowas could elevate more dark-horse candidates in the beginning of the nominating season.

New Hampshire and Iowa presently dominate the news circuit. With the addition of ten or twelve states, the media's attention will spread out, possibly to include candidates that would otherwise be invisible under the current system.

One of the main problems with the Delaware Plan is that it might create four mini-national campaigns. Each grouping of states is spread out across the country, making it very difficult to have a concentrated effort anywhere. This plan would likely increase the wear and tear on candidates or the media. Moreover, having more than one or two small states at the beginning of the schedule would force candidates to choose among the group for more viable markets and opt to disregard others. Thus, candidates would probably end up saturating the other states with television ads and direct mailings to compensate for the lack of personal appearances. It is already very expensive waging a media campaign in the two major media markets reaching New Hampshire-Manchester and Boston. Imagine doing so in all of the states in the first pod.

This plan may also favor East Coast states as a result of the news cycle. "If you have a choice between Washington state and a smaller state on the East Coast, and you can only play one of them, you are playing the one on the East Coast because you can make the news cycle as opposed to the West Coast," Craig Smith told the Symposium. "If they are the same day as East Coast states, East Coast states are getting the attention because the news cycle moves on the East Coast time as opposed to the West Coast time."22 Under the Delaware Plan, geographically disparate states could hold their primaries on the same day, such as Alaska and Delaware. Because Delaware will make the six o'clock news, it is most likely that Delaware will be considered more newsworthy.

3. Rotating Primary Plan

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), comprising of chief election officials across the nation, believes the nominating system today is unworkable and is pushing to scrap the front-loaded primary calendar. In 2000, the NASS recommended the Rotating Presidential Primary Plan and suggested that it be in place before the 2004 primaries.23 Under the proposal, the United States is divided into four regions-Northeast, Midwest, West, and South-having roughly the same number of votes in the Electoral College, based upon the 1990 census. The Northeast region (in red) has a total of 13 states and 127 electoral votes. The Midwest grouping (in yellow) has a total of 129 electoral votes in 12 states. The 13 western states (in blue) have 119 electoral votes. The South is the largest region (in green) with 163 electoral votes in 13 states.

Proposed Regional Nomination Map

Primaries to select national convention delegates would be grouped by region: Eastern states will hold their primaries in March, the South in April, the Midwest in May, and the West in June. Primaries in each state would be scheduled on or about the first Tuesday in March, April, May, or June, and not all states in a given region would hold their primaries on the same date. The regions would then rotate starting in 2008. The South moves up to first, followed by the Midwest, West, and East. But there is a critical caveat under this plan: Iowa and New Hampshire retain their leading positions in the presidential sweepstakes.

"Front-loading the presidential primary process is forcing candidates to begin campaigning earlier than ever," said Secretary of State Joyce Hazeltine, former president of NASS and South Dakota Secretary of State. "By implementing the rotating regional primary plan, we can more clearly define the presidential campaign season and provide voters and candidates with the opportunity to focus more intently on candidates as they discuss issues relevant to each region."24

The Rotating Presidential Primary Plan shares some of the advantages of the Delaware Plan. Like the Delaware Plan, this regional plan also aims to extend the race and eliminate frontloading, therefore allowing voters the chance to observe candidates in a longer period of time and giving dark-horse candidates some opportunity to build upon momentum.

This plan also addresses some of the weaknesses in the Delaware Plan. Candidates can conduct regional campaigns, which allows them to concentrate on regional issues and possibly save money by focusing their media buys. This ability to camp out would likely reduce wear and tear on the candidates, the staff, and the media, and promote meaningful interaction between candidates and voters. Candidates will be exposed more than ever before to the concerns and complaints of regional voters. They will hear about the no-tax pledge in New Hampshire and ethanol policy in Iowa, but also about union concerns in the Great Lakes or cotton prices in the South. "They might actually get to know something about the states instead of just the airports in the states," Sabato said of regional plans.25

One issue not addressed by the Rotating Presidential Primary Plan is the propensity of candidates to homestead. For starters, this plan fails to break up the Iowa-New Hampshire monopoly. As a result, these two states will continue to set the tone for the entire race, and the candidates will continue to camp out in these states, preserving the permanent campaign. Homesteading may actually become more prevalent under such a plan. Because campaigns will know decades in advance which region will go first in any given election year, they may choose to spend even more time pandering to voters in an entire region. This predictability will likely dictate the timing of presidential bids by certain candidates, as they await a year in which the regional order benefits them. It may actually extend homesteading over several election cycles, rather than just years.

4. Regional Lottery System During the Symposium, Center director Larry Sabato proposed the Regional Lottery System. This plan divides the United States into four regions (identical to those in the Rotating Presidential Primary Plan). States in each region hold their nominating events in successive months, beginning in March and running through June. It is similar to the plan proposed by the NASS, but there are two key differences: the order of regions holding nominating events is determined by a lottery, and there are no lead-off states.

An American Election Lottery determines the order in which the four regions will participate in the process. Run by a five-member nonpartisan part-time election lottery commission appointed by an organization such as the National Association of Secretaries of State, the new lottery could become the Powerball of politics. On a predetermined date approximately six months prior to the first contest (so as to allow the regions ample time to prepare for an election) a lottery with four colored balls representing the four regions on the color-coded primary map will be drawn, with the first region drawn going first and so on down the line.

Because it is a state-based system, each state will have the right to choose between a primary election and a caucus. To encourage the caucus system, which is cheaper to organize and assists in party-building, Sabato proposes that caucus states be first out of the gate-on the first of the month, followed by primaries on the fifteenth.

The Regional Lottery System also enjoys many of the same advantages as the Rotating Presidential Primary Plan, but the key to this plan is the lottery used to determine the order each region will participate in the nominating process. Because candidates are unable to know more than a few months in advance which region will lead off the calendar, homesteading is eliminated and candidates are forced to focus equally on all areas.

The lottery plan also contributes to the development of a primary campaign that retains its competitiveness while pushing the campaign itself closer to the national convention to sustain voter interest throughout the process. The lottery could also insert a degree of excitement into the nominating process. Over the long term, it gives more states, based upon the law of averages, the opportunity to be one of the first contests and have a substantial impact in candidate selection.

The nomination calendar kicks off in March and continues until June under this plan, giving the voters and candidates breathing room and reversing the trend toward front-loaded contests. "The American people might like it. It might reduce costs. It certainly would reduce wear and tear. It makes more sense to most people. It encourages focus on regional issues. And it certainly shortens the permanent campaign," argued Sabato.26

While Sabato's plan does address some flaws of the NASS plan, it does not deal with the fact that regional events may approach the scope of a national campaign and force an over-reliance on the media to communicate with the public. The four regions are still very large areas, which would likely favor candidates with a large amount of money or outstanding name recognition at the very beginning of the campaign. Also, because candidates will not know until very late which region will go first, they may be forced to begin national campaigns years in advance.


The Center advocates Sabato's Regional Lottery System, but with a few significant twists.

First, the Center does not believe that the comparative advantages of caucuses or primaries warrant creating a scheduling incentive favoring one over the other. The parties and states should determine their own priorities in this regard.

Secondly, the Center wishes to enhance Sabato's original proposal with an addition suggested by Craig Smith during the Symposium. Smith recommended creating a second lottery to pick two small states to begin the contest, as Iowa and New Hampshire do now. Under this composite plan, the months prior to the nominating contests would feature an initial lottery to determine assigned months for the regional primaries and a second lottery to pick from among the smallest states, for two lead-off contests to be held in February. The choice between holding a primary and a caucus will be left to the two states picked in the lottery. This lottery would include all states and the District of Columbia with electoral votes no greater than a predetermined number-for example, seven-but it would not include island territories.27 While we are not particularly wedded to this number, it does make nearly half of the states eligible in 2004 and 2008 and allows both Iowa (7) and New Hampshire (4) the possibility of being selected. The Center believes this proposal provides an alternative to front-loading and injects greater excitement and variety into the nominating process by way of a lottery. It also incorporates most of the goals for reform without creating a new set of problems or simply transferring the problems of the current system to a new location. Most importantly, the Center believes that this sort of system will increase the total number of citizens participating meaningfully in the nominating process.

The Challenge of Change

As a general point, the Center calls upon the parties and the states to work together in seeking solutions to the diminishing involvement of voters in the nominating process. The Center believes parties and states should bear much of the responsibility in utilizing the nominating process to encourage and promote voter participation in the political process. It is our hope that the discussions of the Symposium and this report serve to encourage this sort of leadership.

Given the difference of opinion between large and small states, plus the unpredictability of population shifts, dividing the map into regions suitable for all states will be a daunting task. Moreover, trying to effect change in all fifty states will be challenging. This requires coordinating party policy with state laws, both of which tend to become mired in political jockeying.

States will have mixed reactions to any reform proposals. Large and small states have conflicting interests that will most likely cause gridlock in any reform action. Iowa and New Hampshire will not welcome reform with open arms if their status would be diminished in any way. "Each state needs to work together to place our national interest ahead of individual state interests so we can resolve the crisis that has evolved in the presidential nomination process," said Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin, chair of the NASS Committee on Presidential Primaries.28

The Republican and Democratic parties are also hesitant to enact drastic change. Any reform effort will require cooperation between the parties. One party is unlikely to move without the other, for fear of creating a strategic disadvantage for its candidate. Furthermore, the parties have to balance competing objectives: the interests of the party and the interest of the general public. Parties only wield influence and power when their candidates are elected. They do not get anything for a good effort. Therefore it is not necessarily in the interest of the party to extend the nominating process. However, the burden of increasing accessibility to the process and encouraging voter participation has more and more fallen on the shoulders of the parties. Energizing voters through party-sponsored activities and mobilizing voters to the polls are inevitably in the interest of the parties. This would allow parties to create stronger bases and wider support. Yet, it is questionable whether parties will bare the opportunity costs of extending the nominating process. This directly translates into giving up some control of the party's nominee. But for the good of the republic, parties should take a step back and re-examine their role in promoting the health of our democracy.



1. Ben White, "After Drama Left the Primaries, Voter Turnout Fell Dramatically," The Washington Post, September 1, 2000, p. A5.

2. Bob Smith, "Fairness in Primaries," memorandum to the Republican National Committee members and delegates. June 2000.

3. Jill Lawrence, remarks to the University of Virginia National Symposium Series. March 7, 2001.

4. Lamar Alexander, remarks to the University of Virginia American Democracy Conference. December 6, 1999.

5. Michael Dukakis, remarks to the University of Virginia National Symposium Series. April 5, 2001.

6. Craig Smith, remarks to the University of Virginia National Symposium Series. March 7, 2001.

7. Data on New Hampshire and Iowa provided by U.S. Census Bureau.

8. Terry M. Neal, "Primaries Could Be Decisive by Mid-March," The Washington Post, July 2, 1999, p. A1.

9. Kathleen Kendall, "Communication Patterns in Presidential Primaries 1912-2000: Knowing the Rules of the Game," research paper for the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics, and Public Policy. June 1998, pp. 11-12.

10. Vaughn Ververs, remarks to the University of Virginia National Symposium Series. March 7, 2001.

11. Craig Smith.

12. Richard A. Ryan, "Early Primaries are Leaving Big States in Also-Ran Position,", May 10, 2000.

13. Alexander.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Thomas E. Patterson, "Public Involvement and the 2000 Nominating Campaign: Implications for Electoral Reform," The Vanishing Voter Project, April 27, 2000.

17. Tom Sansonetti, remarks to the University of Virginia. National Symposium Series. March 7, 2001.

18. Sansonetti.

19. Sansonetti.

20. Susan Walsh, "Primary Reform Clears GOP Hurdle," July 26, 2000.,1597,219401-412,00.shtml.

21. Sansonetti.

22. Craig Smith.

23. For more information, see

24. South Dakota Secretary of State Press Release. "State Election Officials Call on Governors, State Legislators, and Political Parties to Work Together on Proposal on Inject order into Primary Process," July 28, 1999.

25. Larry J. Sabato, remarks to the University of Virginia. National Symposium Series. March 7, 2001.

26. Sabato.

27. States with seven or less electoral votes: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

28. South Dakota Secretary of State Press Release. July 28, 1999.