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Campaigns, elections, would benefit from NASS’ ‘rotating’ plan

Although most Americans have now turned their attention to the heated race building toward November, we still have many lessons to learn from the history-making 2008 Presidential Primary.
For such a nation-shaping decision, the method through which we select our candidates for Commander in Chief is in dire need of improvement. Our primary process is too front-loaded; 34 states plus the District of Columbia voted in January or February, more than three times the number that did so in 2000. This not only creates a prolonged campaign season, our current primary schedule runs the risk of disenfranchising almost half of our voting population.
In recent years, a number of plans for reform have emerged, such as a national primary, the ‘Delaware Plan’ or a graduated random presidential primary system. Each strategy shows promise, but none provides a comprehensive solution that will ensure a fair and equitable way to select hopefuls for our nation’s highest office.
As president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, I’m an advocate of our own solution to the problem: the NASS Rotating Regional Primaries Plan. We developed this plan in an attempt to inject order and rationality into our presidential selection process. To put it simply, the status quo is flawed. Our current, compressed primary schedule not only gives highly funded candidates with national name recognition an unfair advantage, it also effectively silences the voting voice of half of our nation’s states.
The NASS’ proposed improvement should resonate with Hoosier voters. In our current system, our voters simply don’t have much of an impact on the candidate selection process. The history-making 2008 Presidential Primary was the first time in 40 years that nominations weren’t finalized by the time our May primary rolled around.
Hoosiers’ excitement over our pivotal role in this momentous primary was evidenced through our voter turnout, which increased from 21 percent in the 2004 primary to about 40 percent in 2008. Indiana voters showed up by the hundreds of thousands to fulfill their civic duty and make their voices heard. And under the NASS plan, this wouldn’t happen only every 40 years, but every election. A plan providing a better, more equitable approach is essential. But to make a lasting, positive impact on this critical process by the 2012 election, we can’t wait until after the dust settles in November. Our work must start now.
The new format advocated by NASS would divide the nation into four geographic areas: Eastern, Southern, Midwestern and Western. On a rotating basis, the first region would vote in March, with each subsequent region voting in April, May and June. A different part of the United States would have a chance to voice its opinion first every 16 years.
This would improve our primary process in several key ways. In addition to ensuring that no state or region would dominate the selection process, we believe rotating regional primaries will encourage better campaigns by providing a more reasonable campaign time frame and alleviating some fundraising pressures.
The regional groupings will also foster increased voter participation. Studies show that in 2004, fewer than 8 percent of the eligible electorate cast a ballot before the nomination was effectively decided. In fact, eight states canceled their primaries outright because their contests had no impact on the race. Through NASS’ plan, more Americans will have a say in selecting their nation’s candidates.
Indiana has never been more ready for such a change. Recent reforms, such as Indiana’s Statewide Voter Registration System, prove that Indiana is not only enthusiastic about the chance to shape future presidential primaries, it has put tools and tactics into play to ensure that our state is up for the challenge.
I urge all Hoosiers to join me in making our voices heard, and our primary election votes count in 2012. Contact our state party leaders and federal legislators and tell them we need a change, so that Indiana can have an equal voice in our next presidential race.
Editor’s note: Todd Rokita is Indiana’s Secretary of State. He said his direct involvement in this year’s primary season in Indiana has moved him to reach out to Hoosier voters to support the plan National Association of Secretaries of State Rotating Regional Primaries Plan.