In the 1992 movie “My Cousin Vinny,” Joe Pesci’s character of lawyer Vincent LaGuardia Gambini has a scene where he takes out a deck of cards and uses it to illustrate to his defendant cousin, played by Ralph Macchio, how he thinks the prosecution’s case is weak and why he shouldn’t worry.
He proceeds to take a card from the deck and says the prosecutor will try to build a brick-solid case and shows you the front of the card as this thick, good-looking brick, but from the right angle, the case is as thin as the playing card.
It is the same with the early primary states. Let’s take the Iowa caucuses, for example.
Our 24/7/365 election cycle and corresponding coverage talk incessantly about the early primary states so long that there’s so much importance built into them defining who is a viable candidate and a frontrunner. But is it valid?
Consider the 2016 Republican Iowa caucuses. Twelve candidates were competing for the votes of 615,066 registered Republicans out of a state population of 3.1 million. Guess how many Republicans turned out to vote in 2016: 186,932, or only 30.3 percent.
To show how thin the card was even more … the winner in Iowa in 2016 was Ted Cruz, who “won” with 51,666 votes, which was only 27 percent of the votes cast. In a state with a population of 3.1 million, that means only 1.6 percent of Iowans wanted Cruz to be the nominee.
The second-place finisher? Donald Trump, with 45,427 votes, or 24 percent of the total, and only 1.4 percent of Iowans wanted him to be the nominee.
Winning a sliver of the population of any state should not be conclusive or newsworthy, yet here we are. We can do better! It is far past time we invented a better mousetrap that is better for the country, for the parties and for the candidates.
Instead of an arduous and piecemeal primary schedule, we need to move to a National Primary Day with ranked-choice voting where the entire country votes at the same time.
It would be just like Election Day, but instead of being held the first Tuesday in November, it could be as late as the first Tuesday in June, complete with several weeks of early voting as each state sees fit, and giving candidates plenty of time to crisscross the country and make their case.
When the entire country gets to vote at the same time, even if there is a crowded field of five to 10 candidates for each party’s nomination, the ranked-choice voting (also known as Instant Run-off Voting) kicks in and eliminates the lowest vote-getter and reassign their votes to those voters’ second choices and re-tabulate, continuing that process until a candidate receives a majority of support.
No more need for delegate counts or anti-climactic conventions that have long outlived their usefulness and that no one watches anyway.
There are additional benefits to a National Primary Day. Delaying the primary vote by as much as five months will help shorten the never-ending election cycle, help with voter apathy, and force the duopoly to deal with campaign finance reform because a national campaign will be required from day one instead of focusing on just the early states and taking it from there.
As actor Pesci in “My Cousin Vinny” would say, I rest my case.