2012-01-13 / Opinion

Hold a primary

EDITORIAL

Maine should hold a presidential primary.

We made this argument four years ago, and it’s only gotten stronger since then. Among other benefits, a presidential primary would open the nomination process to more voters, entice candidates to visit the state and pump barrels of out-of-state money into the Maine economy.

As is the case in New Hampshire, where roughly half of the 250,000 people who voted in Tuesday’s primary identify themselves as independents, Maine boasts more unenrolled voters than registered Democrats or Republicans.

By allowing easier access to the significant portion of Maine’s electorate that proudly and fiercely asserts its independence, a primary would better reflect more Mainers’ presidential preferences. If that, in turn, spurs the major political parties to nominate candidates who appeal to the average American rather than to partisan extremists, so much the better.

The state’s antiquated caucus system fosters ideological extremism and makes it much harder for independent minded voters to participate in the presidential nomination process.

Caucuses — with their time-consuming and convoluted vote tabulation systems — concentrate power in the hands of party operatives. A primary would shift that power to individual voters.

Unlike caucuses, which require a greater time commitment and offer less privacy than voting by secret ballot, a primary poses fewer obstacles to parents with young children — who have to find child care to attend a caucus — and others with time commitments that don’t align well with caucus scheduling.

Historically, presidential candidates have ignored Maine’s caucuses or sent surrogates to court the state’s party faithful. Conversely, candidates spend weeks in neighboring New Hampshire, talking directly to that state’s population, which is smaller than Maine’s.

The advent of super political action committees this year has already begun converting the nomination process into a televised circus, further distancing candidates from voters. If the campaign has to be a dog-and-pony show, it’s better that the dogs and ponies traipse through Maine living rooms than flit across our television and computer screens.

The economic benefits of a primary are indisputable. University of New Hampshire economist Ross Gittell’s in-depth study of the 2000 New Hampshire primary determined that spending on the Granite State primary was directly and indirectly responsible for 2,248 jobs, and that the primary’s “total economic benefit” to the state, from March 1, 1999, to Feb. 28, 2000, was $264 million.

Further, Gittell estimated that positive impressions of New Hampshire generated by the media’s primary coverage equated to $6.6 million in free tourism marketing.

Some of that economic bonanza could be attributed to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status, but if even a fraction of that national campaign cash flowed across the Piscataqua River into Maine for a primary the Saturday after New Hampshire’s or soon thereafter, Maine would benefit.

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