Today we’re going to propose a new, common-sense way to fix our elections.

In case you haven’t noticed, the breaking news about our system for choosing presidential nominees is that our system is way beyond broken. It is also senseless to the point of being borderline bizarre. And the way it begins is just about as undemocratic as anything any democracy has ever willfully inflicted upon itself.

For decades, Americans have increasingly been shamefully outsourcing the early winnowing of our presidential candidates to two small states that have only minuscule black and Hispanic populations — the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Candidates spend a year on door-to-door, diner-to-barbershop retail politicking before voters who are overwhelmingly white and represent just 65 of the 3,979 pledged Democratic convention delegates. This campaign’s field that once was more than 20 candidates is now just seven, as the campaign finally has moved on to states with larger minority populations — Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucuses and South Carolina’s Feb. 29 primary.

Then suddenly, candidates and strategists will be plunged into a politically nightmarish three-day campaign hell — the March 3 Super Tuesday. Presidential wannabes will be pinballing back and forth across the continent on an impossible quest to campaign in 14 states in just 72 hours (with a whopping 1,357 delegates at stake), from California to Massachusetts, Oklahoma to Virginia, and so on. It makes no sense.

Meanwhile, we also have other ways to measure how the 2020 campaign is going so far. We can use two yardsticks: diversity and democracy.

Diversity: Iowa and New Hampshire have only minuscule percentages of black and Hispanic populations — and by the time those two states got around to their final debates, the Democratic Party, which proudly boasts it is America’s party of diversity, had no blacks onstage. The two prominent black senators who had been running for president, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, had dropped out due to a lack of early support, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Democracy: Iowa’s caucuses (and those in all caucus states) are showcases of the sort of democratic principles that must be greatly admired by Moscow’s Vladimir Putin and Beijing’s Xi Jinping. For starters, there are no secret ballots in caucus states. Voters cluster in groups according to the candidate they favor.

That means every voter’s neighbors can see their voting choices — and so can their workplace bosses and union reps. Strong-willed voters openly urge (see also: arm-twist) people to switch to their candidate’s clusters. (For the moment, we won’t discuss the way the Iowa Democratic Party screwed up its caucuses, because our point here is that even if it works, it’s fatally flawed.)

Bottom line: Americans have, in effect, outsourced to those two small, unrepresentative states the task of winnowing the field before any of the rest of us get to vote.

For decades, many critics have urged a switch to four regional primaries: Northeast, South, Midwest and West, on the first Tuesday of March, April, May and June. But that reform risks creating a new problem: It could leave us with four regional candidates and no consensus.

So, to avoid the risk caused by potential regional biases, I have proposed a significant variation that cuts across the traditional regions:

Regroup our 50 states into three Time-Zone Primaries:

The Eastern Zone includes Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and New Hampshire all voting on the same day.

  • The Central Zone includes Michigan, Iowa, Arkansas and Texas.

The Western/Rocky Mountain Zone: Oregon, Colorado, California and Arizona. Campaigning within the same time zone prevents the need for coast-to-coast pinballing. The order of each zone’s primary elections would be drawn from a hat.

But in past years, critics raised a valid concern: We will lose something valuable if we don’t start with one or a few small states, because they enable candidates with little name recognition and financing to spend their one resource — time — doing retail door-to-door politicking. It’s their one chance to become known. Indeed, it worked for Jimmy Carter in 1976.

So today we are offering a new and improved Time Zone Primaries proposal: In each zone, party officials will select one small or middle-sized state that also has a representatively diverse population; it will vote on the second Tuesday of that zone’s election month. The rest of the time zone then votes on the month’s fourth Tuesday.

This modified Time Zone Primaries plan can preserve the rainbow diversity that makes America the envy of the world. And it can finally give most of us something we really have never had — a real role in choosing our presidents.Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at

(18) comments


I like how all our problems can be solved with a "common sense" solution. Common sense gun laws, common sense elections, etc. Well, where the heck is the common sense and who is the judge of what the common sense is? Easy to say it, how about we figure out how to get it


One problem with our elections is how little control the parties have over the candidates. So little that they wind up with candidates and even nominees who aren’t even representative of the party (c.f., Trump, Sanders, Bloomberg)

Years ago someone suggested that the primaries be used by pick amongst candidates nominated by the parties rather than to discover who the parties will nominate. Party leaders would nominate 2 to 4 tickets and those tickets would then compete in the primaries. For example, the GOP might have a Kasich/Rubio ticket and a Cruz/Pence ticket. Primary voters would choose between those tickets.

This gives the parties more ability to have coherent positions and to prevent being taken over outsiders.

I wish I could remember whose idea this is so I could give them due credit.


Public, that's how it used to be before the parties initiated primary elections. The original Constitution never anticipates political parties.


Yeah, it was kind of like that. I’d say party leaders had too much say back then and too little now.


BTW, if you’ve never read the bio of Garfield “Destiny of the Republic”, I highly recommend it. It recounts how he was nominated for president against his own wishes.


Makes sense to have national primaries but as long as we have political parties it is not likely to happen.


Dick, why don’t we just have a politburo, seems you want a one party rule, comrade.


Too funny Bunny given that your comment defines the Trump administration to a T!


We should format the primaries as a game show, like American Idol or the Masked Singer. Do away with political parties, anyone can enter, and they get winnowed down by various Survivor type competitions, with the Supreme Court serving as the Judges panel. The President could be the emcee.


What would you do for a party platform? And why would you want the Supreme Court to be involved politically?


It’s been a minute since we’ve herd from Ba’lane young. I expect a letter from him any day now.


Are you encouraging it,Kelly?


I enjoy the comments to his letters


America, we are an odd sort. Only with our unique freedoms and organic, every evolving, government could small locales like Iowa and New Hampshire find a way to have their voices heard over the thunderous voice of the overpopulated urban areas. Maybe their relevance is dwindling . But any State can choose when to have their primary. So why beat up on the little guys for being brave enough to be first.

Two things I found disagreeable with this piece. The first. The oft repeated racial victim hood mantra decrying that Iowa and New Hampshire are predominately white .So is the country. Including white Hispanics America is 72% white. Primaries are dictated by the parties. If this is so unfair change the process. This is America.

But to show why this is so disingenuous the writer seems to imply that the only reason there are no more Black candidates in the running is because of these primaries and the racial imbalance. How short are our memories when we want to twist the facts? It was the little State of Iowa that put the first Black Presidential candidate on the map in 2008. At the time it was near revolutionary. I am sure high praises were sung for Iowa that night.


Well reasoned and stated. [thumbup]


According to a Pew Research study and US Census Bureau only 11% of American adults with Hispanic ancestry do not identify as Hispanic, separating themselves from White or Black demographics. It takes about four generations for Hispanics to identify themselves by color. Typically based on life experiences.


But what I find more interesting - those not attachment to race. Archaic definitions as in ‘Black’ or White’ may not be so black and white going forward in the American experience. Those ignorant deference may be dying away to ‘Colored’ a mix of multiple ethnic and racial groups not necessarily separated by complexion... Look at the former 2 time elected President (that you voted for twice) and now the most diverse Congress led by the Democrat majority in the house. Times are definitely changing.


See Brazil.

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