The early primaries decide the fate for most of the candidates; the results determine who gets media coverage and who can raise the funds to continue an effective campaign. The rush by states to move their primaries earlier points to the unfairness of a process that makes the early primaries overly decisive in the choice of each party's candidate.
To remedy this, we offer a simple modification of the voting system that would decrease the importance of the early primaries, encourage a better discussion of the issues facing the nation, give voters a better chance to represent their concerns, and result in a vote count that better reflects true voter support for each candidate.
With "approval voting," a voter has the option of choosing as many candidates as he or she likes (approves of), and each vote is counted as a single vote. Approval voting lets a voter express his or her preferences more clearly, and the resulting vote count is a better measure of voter preferences. It also encourages a broader, less negative and more in-depth discussion of the issues, eliminates the spoiler role of multiple candidates, and could be effective in decreasing the power of big money in elections.
Approval voting offers a better measure of support for the candidates than "winner take all" because voters do not have to choose among candidates with similar appeal. It thus gives a candidate who has broad appeal on a number of issues a better chance of surviving the early primaries even if his financial backing is weak and he is given little chance of winning.
Another advantage of this system is that it gives the voter the opportunity to vote positively - in terms of likes rather than dislikes. Voters can think more broadly about the candidates and the issues. More candidates would be likely to survive the early primaries, and campaigns would become more positive and issue-focused. Candidates would work to be included in a voter's list rather than try to get voters to think negatively about the leader in the race.
The rules for how primary elections are conducted are determined by parties within each state. Successful use of approval voting in one or a few states could lead to its adoption in other states. Given the deficiencies of the current system, it's worth a try.
John M. Kellett is an emeritus professor of mathematics at Gettysburg College. Jane K. Cramer is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.