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Posted at 11:06 AM ET, 03/06/2012

What if Super Tuesday was more like March Madness?

One of the biggest myths about this year’s Super Tuesday, I’ve found, is that it is somehow “super.”

Not only is Super Tuesday 2012 one-half the size of Super Tuesday 2008 in terms of the number of states voting, according to the Associated Press, but it also offers only one-third of the total number of delegates needed to win the nomination. Strictly in terms of primary delegate math, winning delegate-rich states could do very little for either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, due to the complex way in which delegates are allocated based on performance. In the current iteration of Super Tuesday, a close second is almost as good as a strong first — and that’s part of what makes it so problematic.

Surely, there must be a way to reform the primary election calendar and truly super-size Super Tuesday?

What if it was more like the NCAA’s March Madness?

In past years, a variety electoral options have been considered, including a National Primary where Super Tuesday grows to encompass the entire nation or a system of rotating regional primaries, in which the nation is sub-divided into four distinct geographic blocs, and four separate Super Tuesdays are spaced out, a month apart from each other. Both of these alternative systems, to one extent or another, could stand to reduce the cost of running long, drawn-out national campaigns.

As politicians know from practical experience and as game theorists know from theoretical models, the way a political system is constructed goes a long way toward determining the final winner. That being said, what if the current electoral system was not the only option on the table? After all, in many ways, it’s a bit incongruous. Why should a state like California or New York play no direct role in choosing the nominated candidate before or on Super Tuesday?

This system of four distinct geographical Super Tuesdays, if you’re a basketball fan, is at least slightly reminiscent of the NCAA Tournament’s March Madness, which uses a winner-take-all system and four distinct geographic brackets to determine the nation’s champion. (Once you see the visual representation of the rotating regional primaries, you’ll be almost certain to agree.)

Of course, the NCAA tournament mixes in a few bells-and-whistles, such as the pseudo-randomness of Selection Sunday, when the final seeds for each bracket are determined — but keep your eyes on the ball and the macro-structure of the system. The NCAA Tournament is, in itself, a type of electoral system that “votes” on the best college basketball team in the nation. There is no proportional delegate counting. It’s winner-take-all and all the action is compressed into a very defined time window — and that’s what makes it so exciting. The dream scenario is having the #1 seed (Mitt Romney) match up against the #2 seed (Rick Santorum) in a winner-take-all fight to the last buzzer on a neutral court.

Let’s face it: It has been an exhausting primary to date, and we’re only in early March. There have been more than 20 Republican debates, a string of primaries and caucuses, and yet no clear Republican favorite appears to have emerged. Despite Mitt Romney’s recent wins and unwavering claim that he is the clear choice of the GOP, campaign donors continue to flood the coffers of other candidates. These donors realize that, as the electoral calendar is currently constructed, Super Tuesday isn’t guaranteed to leave the GOP primary field with one, clear frontrunner.

Wasn’t it supposed to be the case that, if you run the table on Super Tuesday, you have a clear path to the nomination? Yet, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that Americans really don’t like any of the Republican candidates. In fact, in terms of the looming general election in November, the extended run-up to Super Tuesday and the following campaign grind afterward might actually have decreased, not increased, their prospects of winning the general. The current nominating system, with its watered-down Super Tuesday, has even been described as, yes, "water torture" by the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, according to a March 4 report by CNN’s Peter Hamby.

The goal of any reform of the election calendar should be to increase the chances of the best candidate actually winning, while simultaneously decreasing the cost (both financially and politically) of the campaign for all potential nominees. The lower the cost of the campaign, the less the big-money Super PACs can get involved. Obviously, there are trade-offs involved with any election system. Some systems appear to favor heavy frontrunners, while others seem to favor candidates who benefit from sudden shifts in momentum, while still others favor candidates with the biggest campaign war chest. The key is finding a happy compromise that balances all of these interests and ensures that the American people have a chance to vet the candidates, allowing the best candidate to win. By super-sizing Super Tuesday, it’s possible to arrive at a better system than one that leaves candidates struggling for cash while not actually resolving much of anything.

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By  |  11:06 AM ET, 03/06/2012

Categories:  Dominic Basulto, Morning Read

 
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