Ireland

By BETTY IRELAND

CHARLESTON -- During every presidential cycle of the past two decades, we have seen states growing more concerned with holding their Primary elections sooner rather than later.

Their understandable goal is to be a "player" and have a voice in the selection of the presidential nominees. South Carolina is now moving its Republican Primary to Jan. 19, New Hampshire is voting on either Jan. 12 or Jan. 8, and now the possibility exists that there will be an Iowa primary in December 2007 - outside of the calendar year of the election itself.

Florida Democrats have recently been warned they may lose delegates to the Democratic National Convention unless they back away from a plan to hold a Primary in January.

So far, West Virginia has largely avoided the temptation, although our state did tinker with moving the Primary from May to June in 1980, then quickly switched back to May in 1986. But today, May is considered late in the Primary process.

Other efforts have been made to make West Virginia more important to presidential candidates, most recently the decision by the West Virginia Republican State Executive Committee to hold a convention in early February to select the majority of its presidential delegates to the Republican National Convention.

If the current trend continues unabated, it won't be long until nearly every state moves its Primary to February or even earlier. When that happens, the result would be that only the large states would draw the candidates and attention everyone is seeking, and we are back at square one.

For several years, various "rotating Primary" plans have been proposed in an attempt to deal with the problem of Primary favoritism. One such plan was recently introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Amy Kloubuchar (D-Minn.).

A plan with similar features has been suggested by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), of which I am a member.

A rotating Primary system would establish a changing, regional presidential Primary process which divides the country into sections, with a lottery determining which region goes first. The plan mandates that states in each region must hold their primaries during the first week of each month in the months of March, April, May and June, depending on the results of the lottery for that year.

The Senate bill parallels the NASS plan by making an exemption for Iowa and New Hampshire, thus maintaining these two states' current status.

Regardless of the specifics of various plans, the idea of rotating Primaries is worth considering. This year, for example, it is entirely possible that the presidential candidates will essentially be chosen by March -- a full seven to eight months before the General Election.

The electorate is increasingly exhausted by what already is seen as a never-ending presidential campaign which, in turn, has caused other candidates at both the federal and state levels to launch their campaigns much earlier than even just a few years ago.

There are flaws and issues to be worked out with every plan being offered, including the question of states' rights and political party rules. But with every presidential cycle bringing a new battle among states to be first or to have the biggest voice, a rotating Primary plan is well worth serious consideration and study.

Ireland is West Virginia's Secretary of State.




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