Now we can have a say in things

The real winner in the New Hampshire primary may be a nominating process that was in danger of falling into disrepute as an unfair exercise in small-state politics that excluded the urban electorate. A win in rural Iowa and tiny New Hampshire seemed on the verge of having such outsized impact in choosing a president that grumbling about finding some new way of doing business had reached a crescendo.

In Florida and Michigan, political leaders challenged their national hierarchies and moved up their primaries in a dramatic effort to highlight the need for significant participation by big states. Both are now in danger of not having their delegates seated at the national conventions, a threat that is probably as hollow as a candidate’s promises given the importance of their delegations. Besides, for at least 40 years the quadrennial nominating conventions have been nothing more than pep rallies.

But with the Democratic voters of New Hampshire delivering a definite setback to the perceived Iowa-bred juggernaut of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama by giving the victory to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Republican voters rejuvenating the hopes of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the way is cleared for a much more representative nominating process. The race for each party’s endorsement remains wide open into the next round of primaries that will culminate Feb. 5 with “Super Tuesday,” when voters in over 20 states, including California and New York, will weigh in.

Extending the indecision won’t come cheaply, however, with all the candidates still viable facing new major advertising, travel and organizational expenses that will test their fund-raising abilities at a time when the economy is showing signs of stress. A friend with a history of minor political giving recently reported receiving at least four frantic calls for contributions and turning them all down, saying the drop in interest rates and other uncertainties had made her more cautious.

The Iowa/New Hampshire axis is a relatively new thing, having come about in 1976 when an obscure former Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, found the cornfields of Iowa fertile ground for his peanut-farmer personality and parlayed it into a stunning victory that his opponents never could overcome. With the media’s help, that state’s improbable caucus approach became a key to the nomination. It never really made much sense, considering the nature of the voting and the size of the state. The same could be said for New Hampshire, another rural state.

Until that time, the primaries of states like Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon and California coming in orderly fashion throughout the winter and spring had played significant roles in the business of selecting nominees. But in recent years, by the time their voters got to the polls they were mostly irrelevant, leaving them with a feeling of disenfranchisement. This has led to more open talk about somehow making the conventions once again a meaningful part of the selection process by reserving a certain number of uncommitted votes for delegates chosen by state conventions.

With the races for both parties’ nominations now seemingly back in balance, that conversation could be expected to subside, although the fact that voters often pick far worse candidates than the kingmakers of the smoke-filled rooms will keep the debate alive. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower in the last century were products of the professional selection process. But then so was Warren Harding, an argument for the primary system or a combination of both.

At any rate, there will be little relief from the campaigning. But given the importance of the job, it is better that a broader number of voters have a voice in deciding who will represent them in the general election. That seems to be ensured now, and the spirited debate among the candidates over whatever differences they have will have a more complete airing. This is now basically an urban nation, and to have the major population centers cut out of the decision-making was never a good idea.

Between now and four years from now, there should be major reforms to restore some equity and perspective to the system.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)


  1. pollchecker

    Bravo! This is so right on!

    Yes the parties don’t like dragging it out because that costs money. But the people are disillusioned by a primary system that excludes more than it includes and produces lame canidates.

    So much so that in the last 2-3 decades most people end up voting against a candidate instead of for a candidate.

  2. jarrodlombardo

    A problem is that you assume that the NH primary wasn’t fixed:

    Clinton got a 5.419% boost while all others were negatively hit in precincts with Diebold counting machines versus precincts with hand counting.

    Romney got a 7.509% boost while most others were negatively hit in precincts with Diebold counting machines versus precincts with hand counting.

    Now, this fix does keep the field more open, which could be good in the long run, but the dishonesty just doesn’t sit well with me.

  3. keith

    Folks, all this “Diebold conspiracy” bunkum is just that…. bunkum!

    Rather than constantly repeating this mantra, those who choose to do a little more statistical digging might learn that the apparent “irregularities” don’t AT ALL prove what such conspiracy proponents may think they’re proving.

    In fact, what the statistics DO show is a repeat of a voting pattern that’s been around in our State for decades. Education, income, age and where people live are all factors that influence voters’ choices here.

    For example, in 2008, 2004 and in 2000, voting from those (usually larger) towns and cities using ballot-counting machines were skewed toward Democratic primary winners Clinton, John Kerry and Al Gore. Conversely, contests in towns where ballots are hand-counted were won by overall second-place finishers Obama, Howard Dean and Bill Bradley.

    AThat is, these same voting patterns that have been observed in years past in New Hampshire again emerged in the vote last Tuesday. But, what is probably more telling is that these results were ALSO consistent with exit polling done by a number of organizations.

    It is also not surprising we’d see such patterns when we look at the types of equipment used because it’s NOT randomly assigned. That is, there are good and valid reasons why certain towns use paper ballots and certain cities use machines…. mostly having to do with the volume of voters in each precinct.

    Manchester, for example, is New Hampshire’s most populous city. It is largely a working class city and it uses vote-counting machines at its 12 polling stations. Mrs. Clinton won there Tuesday, just as previous winners Kerry and Gore did.

    On the other hand, the small northern towns of Franconia, Sugar Hill and Bethlehem, which hand-count paper ballots, all went to Obama as they did for Dean in 2004 and Bradley in 2000.

    What’s more, Clinton, Kerry and Gore all seem to attract voters that fit a similar profile in New Hampshire. Their supporters have tended to be older, less likely to be college-educated and (on average) lower wage earners.

    These are what I call the “straight ticket” Democrats. They have been voting for the “next in line”, labor-union-endorsed Democratic candidates (like Clinton, Gore, and Kerry) for decades.

    On the other hand, those persons who voted for the so-called “upstarts”… Dean, Obama and Bradley…were most likely to be younger, have college degrees or postgraduate education, and be in a higher income bracket. And, as one would expect, these people tend to live outside the larger cities.

    Also, in terms of issues, the divide this time was pretty much based on a candidate’s experience versus change. That’s not unlike the split between Kerry and Dean was four years ago (and between Gore and Bradley eight years ago).

    It is also important to remember that ALL ballots in New Hampshire elections are cast on paper. It’s only some of the COUNTING that is done by machines. Roughly 58 percent, or 175 of New Hampshire’s 301 precincts, count their paper ballots using AccuVote optical scan machines, These are the only ones approved by the state.

    Touch-screen voting machines are NOT used in our State…ANYWHERE.

    So, once again, the only “conspiracy” (if it can be called that) in the voting on Tuesday was simply us New Hampshire voters being our normal, independent and crusty selves…and taking sheer delight in confounding all the pollsters, pundits and talking heads.

    The patterns in our voting had FAR more to do with who we are and where we live rather than some underhanded scheme to tamper with the vote counting machines our polling supervisors may have used.