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It's Time to Scrap the Primary System in the U.S.

We Need a National Primary All on One Day

The presidential primary system is where candidates compete for delegates and seek the nomination for their parties’ next president. It’s a broken system. There are a variety of reasons why, not the least of which is the outrageous amounts of money spent in each state to court voters’ support. We’re talking in the mega-millions when the process is all said and done. Just think how that amount of money could be used for better purposes. I know it’s not a comparison of apples to apples, but the point is clear. It’s a waste of resources.

The main reason the process is broken can be seen in this year’s Republican primary cycle. After just one primary and one caucus, many Republicans with power and influence are calling for Nikki Haley to step aside so that Donald Trump can be anointed as their presidential candidate. Others say that Haley should drop out either just before or just after the South Carolina primary vote. The thinking is since she is not expected to win her own state vote, it’s time to pack it in.

The Ills of the Primary System

Primaries are statewide voting processes in which voters select a party's nominee who will later compete in the general elections. The rules of the primary, including who can vote, are determined by the states and the parties. Unlike in a caucus, voters in a primary cast a secret ballot for their candidates and can vote at any time when the polls are open on Election Day.

There are some who defend the way it works pointing out that the staggered nature of the primary calendar allows candidates to focus their resources on groups of states at various times instead of all at once. Often candidates focus on winning some or all the early states to gain momentum in the race, and force competitors out, as well as seeking to win large states that can earn them a high number of delegates.

That’s nice but this kind of system puts the needs of the candidate ahead of those of citizens. As Spock said in the 1982 segment, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Spock shared this philosophy with the Captain of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk, earlier in the film, and later used it to explain why he sacrificed his own life to save the Enterprise. The line is possibly the most famous in Trek history. Vote

The next primary is tomorrow on February 5th. However, the way that election is held is, to say the least, confusing. It’s a bewildering system that brings into question its relevancy. We can attribute it to 2020, when a delay in the results led to many Democratic political leaders in the state, including the late Harry Reid, pushing for the state to abandon the caucus system in favor of a primary. Only, they didn’t: Nevada now has both. No matter what the final vote is, it would be crazy for Haley to pull out of the race after Nevada.

The South Carolina primaries take place on two different dates. The Democratic primary was on Saturday, February 3, while the Republican primary is three weeks later on Saturday, February. 24. Why in the world is it necessary to have votes on two different days?

South Carolina has an open primary system, which means voters can cast ballots for whichever candidate they prefer, regardless of party affiliation. A registered Republican can vote in the Democratic primary, and vice versa. However, voters cannot vote in both primaries.

Let’s look at the primary voting system in New Hampshire, which was held on January 23. New Hampshire is a semi-closed primary, which limits registered voters to the ballot for their own party while unenrolled voters can choose either. Open primaries allow any voter to cast their ballot for whatever party they choose. Why can’t we have just one way to vote—i.e., party affiliation or totally open.

Delegates Pledged

There have only been 61 delegates pledged to the candidates prior to the Nevada vote. The total number of delegates needed to win the primary is 1215, for Republicans. This means only 5% of the vote has been counted. If Haley were to drop out after Nevada, the percentage counted would be about 7%. Think about how many states and citizens would have no say in who is the Republican candidate—over 90%. This flies in the face of the statement that is always made before voting for the next president, which is “Every vote counts.” The current system creates a fairness problem.

Years ago, the primaries went up at least or until “super Tuesday,” on March 14. Approximately 1/3 of the delegates are awarded on that day. To add confusion to a broken system is that after March 14, states are allowed to award all the delegates to the candidate who polls the most votes.


My recommendation is to have a national primary and on the same day. This enables candidates whose strength is in states that vote at a later date to have a say in the process, equal to that of those who have voted in the early primaries. The vote would be counted and if no one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote then the top two candidates would have a runoff.

Now there is talk of having the South Carolina primary to be the first in the nation. Why? Because its votes would mean something. Some have said that states with a sizable percentage of minority voters are denied their right to have their vote count if the primary in their state is on super Tuesday or later, and candidates like Haley are “forced” to drop out.

Changing the primary system as I suggest would also diminish the influence of large donors, because they would have to pick a “horse in the race” right away and couldn’t shift their resources after just a few states have voted. Although I am skeptical here because well-heeled donors would probably find a way to game the system.

It’s time to make sure that every vote means something in the primaries. It’s undemocratic to do otherwise.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 5, 2024. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on LinkedIn at: