Early Primaries Move Elections Too Far From November

“New Hampshire and Nevada in standoff over presidential contests” is the headline of a recent Washington Post article. 

With the race for the Republican nomination heating up, states like Florida and Nevada are giving in to what is known as “New Hampshire envy.” This fight to get primaries as close to the beginning of the year as possible, also known as front-loading, prompted the sunshine state to schedule a January 31 primary.

If states continue moving their primaries farther from the November election, the outcome will result in a shorter meaningful primary season beginning in the year prior to the election. Consequently, votes cast later in the year will become irrelevant and campaigning will take place far too early to decide who the best candidate for president is.

Upon the announcement of Nevada’s proposed January 14 caucus, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner issued a statement in which he urged Nevada to move the caucus to at least January 17. With New Hampshire’s state law dictating them to be the first primary, taking place a week before any “similar contest,” Gardner defended their “traditional lead-off status” and stated that if Nevada will not cooperate, he “cannot rule out the possibility of a December primary.”

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s original response was that since his state elects presidential nominees through a caucus, it was not a "similar contest" to New Hampshire’s primary. Despite Sandoval’s feelings, the Nevada Republican Party recently decided to hold their caucus on February 3. With Secretary Gardner expected to make a decision within the next few days, we will see if Nevada’s cooperation prevents the first ever December primary.

As a deterrent, the Republican National Committee has banned all states except Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada from holding their nominating process before March 6. This ruling would force those who do not conform to lose half their delegates. For Florida, this means going from 99 to only 48 delegates.

The motive for an early primary lies behind what is known as retail politics. This face-to-face from of local campaigning gives voters in early states "special treatment," and they benefit from candidates seeking every vote through press conferences, promises to local issues, and by pouring major funds into local advertising. Attending college in New Hampshire, I am at the heart of this exciting atmosphere. Since returning from summer break I have already attended a "town hall" style meeting with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; heard a talk hosted by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas); and seen Jon Huntsman, who is a frequent visitor on campus since his campaign headquarters being only a few miles away.

Though it is clear that the earlier a state votes, the more benefits they receive, a large number of early elections will make personal appearances virtually impossible, and presidential hopefuls will rely on large-scale, national campaigning. Voters will be forced to rely on generic advertisements or the media to decide who the best candidate is.

Take a hypothetical situation in which the 2012 primary season starts with New Hampshire in December, setting a new precedent. Would Iowa be forced to do the same in 2016 allowing room for four other contests to take place in January? Would the race for the 2016 nomination start in 2014?

History shows that it is not far-fetched to have a clear winner after the first five elections, which would complete the "meaningful primaries" before February. The candidate could be decided ten months before the November election. Now what? Is there not a chance that we could have made a premature decision based on issues that were important at the time that prove to be irrelevant in November?

If states like Florida continue to break the RNC rules, the way in which we select candidates will be based on the opinion of a select few states. There will be no time for reconsideration and whoever is ahead after January will most likely avoid the remaining states at all costs to secure a victory. There will be no such thing as a “come from behind win” and the remaining elections would be more of a ceremonial procedure than a real influence on the outcome. States who abide by the rules will be at a disadvantage, voter turnout will decrease, and the idea that every vote counts will become a myth.

Photo Credit: dane brian