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Matt Pommer Column – Election Reform Ideas – 7-20-2016

By Matt Pommer

Ideas on how to change the way political parties select presidential candidates, triggered by Donald Trump’s success with voters, are floating through the Republican Party as it readies for the national election.

In internal deliberations, party leaders have mulled the order of states which first select delegates to the GOP nomination convention, according to the New York Times.

 Some party leaders want to close Republican contests to independent voters, it said. That sort of change – a “closed primary – could limit the ability of a Trump-like drive for the party’s nomination.

Closing the process to independent voters could have a significant impact in a state like Wisconsin or 23 other states which have “open” presidential primaries. Experts suggest as many as a third of Wisconsin voters aren’t regulars in either major political party.

Some states have open presidential primaries but not for state-level elections, or vice versa. Wisconsin primaries are open to all voters in either case.

Nominating controversies aren’t limited to Republicans. Sen. Bernie Sanders and his backers were critical of the Democratic system of “super delegate” status for party leaders. More will be heard about that as the Democratic nominating convention approaches.

The idea of changing which states are first to select GOP delegates has been floated by members of the Republican National Committee. One idea would be to pair up states so campaigning and issues are not narrowly focused.

Iowa now is among the early selection states. What would be the impact if Wisconsin were to hold its presidential primary on the same day?

Wisconsin has been at the heart of election attention several times in the 20th Century. The date of our primary in 1960 made Wisconsin an early voting state when Hubert Humphrey and Jack Kennedy sought the Democratic nomination.

The media sometimes called Humphrey the “third senator” of Wisconsin because of his liberal views and representing adjacent Minnesota. Kennedy’s Catholic religion was a major topic.

Could a Catholic become the president of the United States? Decades later Ronald Reagan showed a divorced man could be elected. Barack Obama’s election showed a black man could win the White House.

Wisconsin now holds its presidential primaries in April when non-partisan judges and local officials are elected. Some conservatives may not want to pair Wisconsin, with its maverick reputation, with another state.

That overlooks the state’s recent record. Republicans have full control of state government, including the governor’s chair, both houses of the Legislature and the State Supreme Court.

Wisconsin is fourth among the states in terms of the value of its manufacturing. The Badger State should be a good test of political preferences of blue-collar voters who are necessary to attract in a national election.

The significant GOP legislative majorities in Madison are due in large part to the 2011 gerrymandering of legislative and congressional seats. Less than 10 percent of legislative seats are competitive.

A possible answer to legislative gerrymandering is to adopt a system in which the candidates, regardless of party, who get the two highest number of primary votes square off in the general election but that could put third-party candidates at a disadvantage.

In the GOP-controlled districts the finalists could be two Republicans. In Democratic strongholds, it could be two Democratic finalists. The general election in November could be about issues not partisanship.

Imagine that.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this column does not reflect the views or opinions of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association or its member newspapers.