US Elections 2016

Push among Republicans to change voting system

Voters casting their ballots in Fowler, Indiana, on May 3.
Voters casting their ballots in Fowler, Indiana, on May 3.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over what would be fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, - a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped to exacerbate tensions within the party.

In a significant shift, Republican officials said it now seemed unlikely that the four states to vote first would all retain their cherished place on the electoral calendar, with Nevada as the most probable casualty.

Party leaders are even going so far as to consider diluting the traditional status of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as gatekeepers to the presidency. Under one proposal, those states would be paired with others that vote on the same day as a way to give more voters a meaningful role much sooner.

But in a move that would sharply limit who can participate in presidential primaries, many party activists are also pushing to close Republican contests to independent voters, arguing that open primaries in some states allowed Mr Donald Trump, whose conservative convictions they deeply mistrust, to become the apparent nominee.

Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are sure to mount fierce resistance when the changes are debated in July at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where party officials are planning to consider a variety of procedural and rule revisions.

Anxieties about the system's fairness, stoked by Mr Trump when he believed he could lose the nomination, mirror the bitter debate unfolding in the Democratic Party.

Democrats will face a similar reckoning before their convention, in Philadelphia, over how to address the perceived inequities in their nominating process, which Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has denounced as unfair and corrupt.

The central question both parties are struggling to answer after bruising and protracted primary campaigns is one that cuts to the identity of the modern American political party: Who should be allowed to participate in the presidential nominating process?

"One possibility is that the system moves even in a more public direction than it has," said Ms Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on the presidential nomination system. She suggested that the parties could open their primaries to even more voters in a way that reduces the influence of activists and leaders. "The other end of the continuum is the possibility that parties begin to take back some of their prerogative to nominate their candidates," she said.

One of the most fraught discussions taking place inside the Republican Party is whether to restrict voting in presidential primaries and caucuses to registered Republicans. The impetus is the impending nomination of Mr Trump, a former Democrat who holds some views that are far out of line with mainstream party orthodoxy.

Mr Trump won the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where voters are not required to be party members. That has spurred some from the party's conservative wing to question whether independents are exercising too much influence in Republican contests.

"I think that's probably the biggest discussion of all," said Mr Ron Kaufman, the Republican national committee member from Massachusetts and a longtime party leader.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Push among Republicans to change voting system'. Print Edition | Subscribe