Secretary of State Trey Grayson Calls for Rotating Presidential Primary System

LEXINGTON – A proposal to revamp the presidential primary system could increase Kentucky’s clout, Secretary of State Trey Grayson told a legislative panel today. 

“The current system doesn’t work,” Grayson told members of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs. “We’ve got to do something.” 

Many states have moved their primary dates forward for the 2008 election cycle, Grayson said, with more than half the states selecting their delegates by February 5. As recently as 2000, the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire Primary wasn’t held until February 1. Under the current plan, only two states will hold their elections after Kentucky’s May 20 primary. 

Rep. J.R. Gray, D-Benton, questioned the cost of having the presidential primary separate from other primary elections, as some states do. The cost, Grayson said, would be about the same as a run-off election’s costs — about $5 million. “I’m proud to see the General Assembly is not doing that,” he said. “I think it’s a wise use of taxpayer dollars.” 

Under the plan suggested by the National Association of Secretaries of State, the nation would be divided into four regions — East, South, Midwest, and West — with states in each region holding their presidential primaries during the same month. Every four years, the regions would rotate the positions, meaning states that held primaries in March 2012 would host their 2016 primaries in June, and other regions moving forward one month. The New Hampshire Primary and the Iowa Caucuses would retain their normal places at the beginning of the campaign cycle, Grayson said, because it would be almost impossible to persuade those state’s leaders to forfeit their status. 

Two options exist, Grayson said. Each state within a region could hold its primary the same day, or they could select any day within the designated month to hold their election. “I support the variation that allows states to choose your own date within that month,” Grayson said. “At a bare minimum, our voters would have a say. Right now, they don’t have a say.” 

Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, and Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins noted the state’s participation in the 1988 Super Tuesday elections, when Kentucky spent the extra money to hold a separate presidential primary, but got little attention with larger states such as Florida and Texas also holding primaries that day. Such a plan would repeat itself if all southern states held their primaries on the same day, they said. If Kentucky’s primary day were by itself or shared with other small states, Carroll said, it might have more impact on the selection process. 

Grayson suggested lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution to endorse the rotating primary plan. While the law is not completely settled on whether Congress can mandate the party nomination system, states’ recommendations could weigh heavily on the final outcome, he said. 

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