Magazine article The New Yorker

PILEUP; Comment

Magazine article The New Yorker

PILEUP; Comment

Article excerpt

Over the past few months, the constitution of the United States has been quietly amended. We're not talking here about the written, capital-"C" Constitution, which can't be changed on the sly, but about the constitution broadly understood: the rules and procedures by which our government is constituted. A lot of that constitution is outside the Constitution, notably when it comes to elections. The framers' document makes no mention of parties, primaries, or nominating conventions--understandably, as they hadn't been invented yet. Article II, Section 1, which is about "chusing the President," has plenty to say about electors' meeting "in their respective States," and making "a List of all the Persons voted for," and signing, certifying, and sealing their Lists before sending them on to "the Seat of the Government." But it says nothing about political campaigns, political parties, or nominating conventions--let alone about sound bites, thirty-second spots, bundled contributions, or independent expenditures, any one of which has more effect on who gets chusen than all the signing, sealing, and certifying on earth. (Nor, for that matter, does Article II say anything about regular people voting. What it does say is "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors." As the Supreme Court pointedly reminded us on December 12, 2000, "The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States." )

This year's informal constitutional amendment is a radical revision of the political calendar. For several election cycles, states have been pushing, more or less politely, toward the front of the primary-season queue. This time, all semblance of good manners has been abandoned. We've stampeded ourselves over a cliff into a yearlong primary campaign climaxing next February 5th, when as many as twenty-two states, representing sixty per cent of the nation's population and a like proportion of the two parties' Convention delegates, will hold their primaries all at once. Eighteen of those states have moved their primaries up to that date or are on the point of doing so, including eight of the eleven biggest--California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey.

This development has two aspects, both of which have been widely deplored. One is the bunching of primaries, which magnifies the need to raise very big money very early, pretty much guarantees that dark horses will stay dark, and makes it harder for someone to enter the race late. The other is the time gap between de-facto nomination in February and de-jure election in November--as lengthy as a full-term pregnancy, and offering similar opportunities for fatigue, boredom, irritability, and nausea (in addition, of course, to ample chances for joy, kicks, and that certain glow).

But the truth is that this change--the bunching-up part, anyway--arises from an admirable citizenly impulse: the impulse to participate. Citizens, Republicans and Democrats alike, want a meaningful voice in who gets to be their party's Presidential nominee, and they are increasingly noticing that most of them have no such voice. For all practical purposes, the primaries disenfranchise voters in "late" states and privilege voters in "early" states, while the general election disenfranchises voters in "spectator" states and privileges voters in "battleground" states. …

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