Once upon a time, presidential nominees were selected by party bosses. About 100 years ago, states began having presidential primaries in which they selected delegates to the party’s national convention according to the percentages favoring particular candidates in a state-wide vote. New Hampshire was one of the earliest states to do this and has traditionally been the first state to hold a primary since that time. As a result, it has a large effect on narrowing the candidate field.
Change of Primary Process at Federal Level:
The primary process developed in an ad hoc fashion, much of it dictated by long-standing tradition. Many people, both Republican and Democratic, think the process needs to revamped. To that end, several bills were introduced at the federal level in 2007. One of the bills was introduced by Michigan Congressman Sander M. Levin. The bill proposes six primaries evenly spaced out from March to June with at least one state participating from each region.
Likewise, the National Association of Secretaries of States (NASS) has a plan. It proposes four regional primaries, the order of which would be selected through lottery.
Critics Argue Against National Scheme:
Of course the idea of a national scheme for primaries has drawbacks. Critics argue that federal legislation of a party process is unconstitutional and that the regional plans require too broad of a campaign area in the first round, disadvantaging candidates with less money. Additionally, some candidates will have a clear advantage in certain regions, disproportionately affecting the ultimate outcome when the region -- by luck of the draw -- holds its primaries first.
Michigan Challenges Status Quo:
Carl Levin, long-term, U.S. Senator from Michigan and brother to Sander M., also objects to the current primary process, arguing that the same four states have an unreasonable and misrepresented sway on the process. He is one of many who supported legislation in Michigan to move up its primary date.
Michigan Moves Up Its Primary to January 15th:
Moving the primary date is not really all that radical of a notion. In fact, over the course of time, Michigan moved its primary date up several times from May to February. In September of 2007, Michigan did it again; its legislature passed an act to change the date to January 15th, one of the earliest in the nation. The act was immediately contested in the courts; but in late November, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld it. Of course, New Hampshire almost immediately changed its primary to January 8th. Iowa's caucus is on January 3rd.
While Michigan was successful in changing its date, the move violated both parties’ national party rules. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are punishing Michigan by reducing or eliminating the number of delegates that can attend their national conventions. Additionally, four democratic candidates removed themselves from the ballot in deference to their party’s rules –- John Edwards, Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson. In some ways, this makes at least the Democratic primary a hollow endeavor.
Primary Participation and Party Affiliation:
Before 1992 in Michigan, a voter needed to declare their political party at least 30 days in advance of a party primary to participate in it. These days, Michigan has an “open” primary, which means a voter is presented with both parties' ballots and chooses one at the polls without having to be affiliated with either.
Note: A voter still needs to be registered to vote at least 30 days before the primary, which for the January 15th primary is December 17th, 2007. Voters can vote through an absentee ballot if they submit an application by January 12th at 2 p.m.