Here’s what we learned from the 2016 primary cycle

No matter how you voted and how you feel about the outcome, let’s agree on something about the 2016 primaries: They were a fucking shitshow. Let’s not do this again, okay? I think we can all get on board with the fact that we need some serious election reform, and I’ve got some suggestions that we should be thinking about for 2020.

1. Ban caucuses

The caucus system is quaint and all, but actually, wait, no, it’s not quaint. It’s a horrible way to administer an election on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin. They privilege people who can get time off to vote and commit to being around for the full period of voting. They’re often inaccessible. They don’t allow people to vote privately, which creates a risk of intimidation. They have extremely low turnout, which results in a skewed representation of voters. There’s absolutely no reason they should be allowed, which brings me to my next point.

2. Take administrative control out of the hands of state party committees

The primaries are all over the place. Some are primaries. Some are caucuses. Some states have both. Some are open. Some are closed. Some are on Saturdays. Some are on Tuesdays. Some have early voting. Some do not. Some are all or nothing states, others are proportional. It’s a complete crapshoot, and it’s because they’re administered by state party committees. They need to be administered either by Secretaries of State, or by the national committees, because they need to be consistent across the country.

3. Same day voter registration

There is no reason people shouldn’t be allowed to register on election day. Not registered yet? Walk into a polling place, register, vote. Similarly, you should be allowed to switch party registration on the same day as well. Right now, deadlines for voter registration, party declaration, and party changes vary wildly by state, and it’s super confusing and frustrating. Let’s make it easier, not harder, to vote.

4. Automatic voter registration

Here’s the thing: Lots of countries have automatic voter registration and it is great. And several states including California and Oregon are implementing Motor Voter laws, which are great, but they’re not actually automatic voter registration — they’re automatic registration if you get a state driver’s license or identification. Not everyone gets either of those things. Overseas, many nations have really robust population data because they administer socialised medicine and other services, so it’s super easy to know who lives where, and to register them to vote accordingly. It’s a lot harder to implement here, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but does mean that we still need to make sure we have same day voter registration.

5. Shorter nominating period

I think the rest of the world would like us to do this too. There’s no reason for the primaries to drag on for six months. I was actually originally in favour of a nationwide, single-day primary, but in conversation with friends, I was dissuaded from this point of view. I can see why we get a more fair and balanced result if we break things up a bit — it allows underdog candidates a chance to find their footing, you know? (For example, Hillary Clinton would have decisively won a nation-wide primary, and we would have lost out on some important conversations. And a whole lot of misogyny.)

Instead, I’d like to propose that we break the country up into four to six blocks and run sequential weekly primaries, with the blocks rotating each nominating cycle so no one gets undue influence. I’m tired of California going last. I’m tired of racially homogenous states like Iowa and New Hampshire playing such an outsized role in the election. If we have, say, South, Southwest, Northeast, Midwest, and West (including Alaska and Hawaii), and rotate those babies up, the cultural landscape of the primaries would change a lot.

6. Better communication from political campaigns

One reason why Senator Sanders didn’t perform as well as he could have was the complete lack of communication from his campaign. I talked to thousands of Sanders supporters who didn’t know how to register to vote, didn’t know who to ask about their polling place location, didn’t know the difference between open and closed primaries, weren’t aware that they could vote in open primaries even if they weren’t Democrats (my father registered Democrat for the first time in his life so he could vote for Sanders), didn’t know about voter registration deadlines, and didn’t know what to do if they encountered challenges at the polls. There is no excuse for that. The campaign should have been on it with voter outreach and education from day one. We’ll never know how much of a difference that poor outreach made, but it might have been more significant than the campaign realises.

7. Abolish superdelegates

The system of delegate allocation is completely bizarro and people were right to complain that it’s unfair, because it is. All delegates should be pledged, though they should be free to switch after the first ballot. When I cast my vote, I expect it to be associated with a pledged delegate who is bound to represent me (I favour proportional allocation as well, perhaps unsurprisingly). I do not appreciate knowing that a large batch of delegates can do whatever they want, without being accountable to voters. If political parties want to nominate people without voter input, fine, that’s their choice. But they don’t get to say they’re soliciting input, while actually allowing superdelegates to have a huge influence over the outcome.

Image: i vote, Kelly Minars, Flickr