New Report Says Frontloading of Primaries is Becoming an Issue of Voting Rights

There’s a new report out by the Century Foundation that says that more attention needs to be paid to the impact of a changed primary schedule on voters and on the democratic process.

As states clamber to move up the dates of their presidential primaries, politicians and political parties are scrambling to rethink their campaign strategies. Much of the news coverage of this issue has focused on the impact of those changes on particular candidates.

However, in a new issue brief from The Century Foundation, Democracy Fellow Tova Andrea Wang warns that more attention needs to be paid to the impact of a changed primary schedule on voters and on the democratic process. She argues that, while the news about frontloading the primaries may not be all bad, the voting rights and civil rights communities need to make sure that any changes to the primary system enhance the democratic process by serving the rights of the voters.

In “The Presidential Primary System’s Democracy Problems,” Wang examines the current primary system as well as two widely discussed alternative primary plans: a proposal from the National Association of Secretaries of State, which recommends regional primaries with the order of the regions voting rotating each cycle, and a plan promoted by the Center for Voting and Democracy, called the America Plan, which features a schedule consisting of ten intervals, during which randomly selected states may hold their primaries. This plan would require that smaller states hold primaries in the earlier rounds.

Wang assesses these three systems in terms of their effect on four fundamental democratic principles:
– adequate choice among candidates;
– diverse, fair representation in the electorate;
– maximizing voter participation and turnout; and
– ensuring voters have the information they need to cast educated votes.

She finds that all plans — including the current system — address some of these issues positively, but that none adequately promote all of these fundamental principles. In the brief, Wang shows how some of the plans might be adjusted to be more favorable to voters. She also offers other potential fixes that might ameliorate the negative effects of the current system. Those recommendations include:
– addressing problems in early voting;
– reforming the campaign finance system;
– delaying the start of all primaries; and
– involving Congress in setting primary schedules.

“The Presidential Primary System’s Democracy Problems” is the first in a series of issues briefs on the presidential primaries. You can download this and other related briefs, reports, and commentary from The Century Foundation’s Election Reform site,, or from the home site,

The Century Foundation conducts public policy research and analyses of economic, social, and foreign policy issues, including inequality, retirement security, election reform, media studies, homeland security, and international affairs. The foundation produces books, reports, and other publications, convenes task forces and working groups, and operates seven informational Web sites. With offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., The Century Foundation is nonprofit and nonpartisan and was founded in 1919 by Edward A. Filene.

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