Mardis Gras Mix-Up: Alabama Legislature Drops the Ball on Primaries

by Ross Margulies // Published June 30, 2006
Alabama Legislators recently botched a move to gain a foothold in the upcoming presidential primaries by scheduling their primary elections four months earlier than anticipated. Early on Wednesday, some state officials noticed their fatal flaw: an error in the wording of the bill, which proposed a move to February 5, 2008 (which happens to be Mardis Gras, a popular holiday in the southern state), inadvertantly included a move for all Alabama primaries. Effectively, this miswording of the bill shifted the 2008 primary election for all state offices, including the state Supreme Court and other state appellate courts, the presidency of the Public Service Commission, many county commission seats and many circuit and district judgeships. Ken Wallis, the governor's legal adviser, noted in an AP interview, "It certainly appears it has set all primary elections for the first Tuesday in February." Thanks Ken, for that inspiring commentary.

Alabama's mistake stems from an increasing tension among states to be among the first for presidential primary races, in order to attract candidate attention ("retail politicking") and set the tone for future primaries. The result of this rush: smaller candidates are quickly pushed aside by those with higher spending budgets, the time gap between primary and national convention grows larger (creating voter apathy) and a party's selection becomes increasingly clear earlier on in the race. FairVote's Graduated Random Presidential Primary System, or The American Plan, offers a solution that would appease both large and small states, while still allowing every candidate to truly get a chance in winning over the nation. Through the creation of rotating voting intervals, primaries would be scheduled to allow a nominating process that remains competitive for a longer period of time. This system would eliminate the large gap between primaries and national convention, allow the public to learn more about candidates and increase the the power of voters nationwide.

"The Graduated Random Presidential Primary System, or American Plan, is at the same time both random in composition, yet predictable in structure. The composition of the schedule favors no one state or one region. Meanwhile, the structure of the system enables the widest possible political debate in the early stages of the presidential primary schedule, yet provides a gradual winnowing process as the price of staying in the game increases with each successive round. A successful candidate need not start out well heeled, but will cross the finish line fully vetted. He or she need not hail from any particular region of the country, but must appeal to the whole nation. America deserves such a president, and America deserves a rational, systematic presidential nomination process for the 21st century." - From The American Plan

Alabama's legislature is currently in the midst of correcting their mistake, yet the issue remains the same on the ground -- states are forced to compete for 'better placement' in the current nominating structure. Systemic change is needed and the American Plan offers the path to this greatly needed reform. Something to say on that one, Ken?

Note: Ross is a long-time member of the Ken Wallis For Supreme Leader Caucus. Any statement above perceived as cynical, bashing or as an act of tomfoolery directed against Mr. Wallis is certainly false.