Sonny's Corner: Electing the United States President


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Sonny Foster"Sonny's Corner" is a regular column in Prairie Fire, featuring commentary on civil rights and justice issues. Our friend and Omaha colleague, Joseph P. "Sonny" Foster, died suddenly at age 54 in August 2005. He left an uncompleted agenda, as did many of our civil rights and justice mentors and heroes. We shall attempt to move forward on that unfinished agenda through this column.

By Lyle E. Young

We are in the process of electing the next president of the United States. The present process is prolonged, haphazard and expensive.

The current campaign of primaries and consensuses over many months is haphazard, at best. Candidates for president are identified before some states hold their primary elections.

Illustration by Paul Fell&

It Is Time the United States Changed the Process by Which We Elect Our President

If candidates hold office, how can they represent the people who elected them when they are spending most of their time campaigning for reelection? While spending months and years the on the campaign trail, how are challenges in their official position being addressed?

The cost of the current primaries and caucuses is tremendous. Most of the money is obtained by an individual, institution, business or PAC seeking future favors, including votes on important issues. A shorter, simpler, fairer campaign would be less costly.

Following are specific steps in a proposed process of electing the president:


  1. At the local and state level each political party should generate, evaluate and screen prospective candidates for the president. As in the past this might be done with meetings, caucuses, petition drives and fundraising events. Ultimately, each state political party (Democrat, Republican, third party) would send delegates to the National Convention. State political parties could contact other states seeking support for individual candidates.
  2. Each party’s national convention’s delegates would come prepared to nominate and support qualified presidential candidates, and after debates would vote to identify as many as six candidates for an initial national election. The change is the role of the national conventions of advancing as many as six instead of one nominee to give the voters in the primaries a selection of candidates.
  3. A national election is one in which all states hold primary elections on the same day, but there could be two primaries: a National Primary One Election and a National Primary Two Election. The reason: it is possible that no candidate would receive a majority vote (50 percent plus) in the Initial Election between six nominees. It is not acceptable to have a presidential candidate move forward with less than a majority vote. Thus the two top candidates in the National Primary Election One will be selected in National Primary Two Election.
  4. Third-party presidential candidates would have to demonstrate viability by petitions and organizational support, much as has been done in the past.


This plan for electing the president would be implemented in a much shorter time, be less expensive, and would operate in a fair, simple way. In the presidential year, the following timeline is suggested:

August (1–10)—Political party conventions

September (1–10)— National Primary One

October (1–10)—National Primary Two

November (1–10)—National Presidential Election

This three-month plan would provide ample time for candidate debates and media coverage of candidate stances on national issues. With existing technology in communication, it would not be necessary to travel extensively.

This plan should greatly reduce the cost of travel, security protection and prolonged media coverage. A shorter campaign would stimulate citizen interest by reducing the repetition and boredom on long campaigns.

This plan would allow candidates who hold office to devote more time to the job for which they were elected.

Such practices as disallowed delegates to national conventions, super delegates and a confusing array of primaries and caucuses would be eliminated.

It is time to start a process of significant change in the way we elect the president of the United States. It may involve passage of a constitutional amendment. Let’s get a dialogue started about changing the system.


Illustration by Paul Fell. 


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