Primary Voting Calendar

A Hot Mess- by Ellie Sullum, Mod 7

Throughout history, and leading into the current election, the Presidential Primary Voting Calendar remains dysfunctional; it often fails to serve its purpose: to allow each American voter a voice in choosing their leadership. The following report will analyze core flaws of the Primary Schedule, propose plans of reform, and discuss the benefits and risks of the newly presented system. In dissecting the issues of the current system, as well as contemporary alternatives, the larger obstacle of designing a proper calendar becomes apparent.
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A Breakdown of the Calendar

Both major parties design the calendar for each election cycle. Iowa and New Hampshire are traditionally the first two states to hold primaries/caucuses. Afterwards, the order of states is not set in stone. Most hold primaries/caucuses in the same general order between February and June, with some changes. The dates of primaries/caucuses change every year, with many states fighting to have theirs earlier in February and March, for increased relevance and visibility.

Does Our Primary Election Schedule Work For, or Against the Voters?

A Breakdown of Primary Criticisms

Primary elections are spread over four months, without an exact purpose in order. The result:

  • Iowa, a state some claim to be ,"Too white, too old and too few to merit first-in-the-nation status," maintains exactly that ( Candidates flood money into a state that may not represent voters as a whole, and thus may not adequately fill the role of setting the early tone for primary voting season.
  • As voting takes place over four months, some - and often most- states don't matter in terms of delegates. CNN reports that the 2016 election cycle is the first in which "New York has mattered for both parties since 1976" ( In the 2016 Republican Primary, 9 states remained after Indiana, where the presumptive nominee had been determined.
  • The order of states in disproportionate in terms of delegate count. New Hampshire, the second state to vote, holds only 24 delegates. In contrast, California, one of the last states to vote in June, holds 475 delegates- the largest of any state. Larger states help determine leads, and often suspensions, though many feel that smaller states should also have a voice.
  • Due to the long and drawn-out nature of primaries, it becomes candidates full time job, some of which are fully employed. Frequent rallies, visits, and appearances that draw media spotlight often "favors unemployed candidates", who can devote the majority of their time to in-person events (Udall, Morris K.) This plays a hand in gaining them extra media attention.

A Proposed Solution

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Proposed Plan: Rotating Regional Primary

  • Proposed in 2008 by the National Association of Secretaries of State
  • 6 Primaries total
  • First in Iowa, then New Hampshire as traditionally structured
  • Following are 4 more primary dates, with states split up into regions
  • The regions are ordered differently each election cycle, and each take up one date in March, April, May, and June.


  • The consolidation of dates allows enough time for voters to become enthusiastic and informed, without dragging out the process. This also makes voting dates clearer, and easier for voters to follow, thus increasing voter turnout.
  • States have greater representation demographically within each region, as well as a mix of delegate count.
  • The regions allow campaigning to become more efficient, as candidates focus in on a region.
  • Enough time is allowed for weaker candidates to be "weeded out" while creating a fair election process, where voters have a more equal voice.


  • Iowa and New Hampshire still go first, as both states have a history of "retail politics." Both states are more rural, and have a primarily white population, leaving the first contests unrepresentative of the electing body as a whole.
  • It's also possible that the last region to vote may have significantly less of a voice. If a candidate lives within the first region to vote, they hold a significant advantage in that election cycle.
  • It's possible that potential candidates may organize their plans according to the first region voting (though this mainly pertains to establishment politicians, it remains relevant, as most candidates fall under that category.)

A Self-Proposed Revision of the Rotating Primary

  • 4 Primaries total; eliminating single-state primaries.
  • 8 regions as opposed to 4. Each current region would essentially be split in half- ex. The West Region would be split into the Northwest and the Southwest region.
  • Primary dates would occur over May and June, with two dates per month. This allows candidates enough time to campaign throughout February, March, and April, building momentum while allowing voters to make an informed decision.
  • 2 regions of different geographic makeup would vote per date, again in a rotating order. For example, the Northwest and Southeast regions might vote in the first primary. This limits the advantage of candidates from those regions, while maintaining a sufficient mix of geography, demographics, and delegate count.


  • Again, allows voters enough time to make an informed decision, without dragging out primary season. Voting months are right before convention, shortening a campaign season that normally goes from August until the July conventions, to February until the July conventions.
  • The makeup of the regions and their dates allows states and their voters to be represented fairly based on demographics, regional interests, and delegate count.
  • The shorter season requires a more consistent fundraising strategy in a shorter period of time, without forcing mass-national advertising. This process remains feasible for candidates with grassroots fundraising strategy.
  • The mix of regions and their demographics ensures a stronger voice for those who vote in the last primary, as it's likely all regions will matter in deciding.


  • Proposing a shorter election season is a risk in its relationship with national media. National media feeds off of a long primary season, and its current influence may make passing a plan like this more difficult.
  • Whereas the mix of regions and rotation of order make it much more likely all states will matter in the primary, it does not guarantee such.

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Works Cited

Kurtzleben, Danielle. "No Way To Pick A President? Here Are 6 Other Ways To Do It." NPR. NPR, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 May 2016.

Udall, Morris K. "A Proposal for Presidential Primary Reform." 10 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 19 (1980): n. pag. Web. 19 May 2016.