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Opinion: A timely proposal

  • L. Phillips Runyon III

Published: 2/11/2020 10:45:31 PM

Every four years the presidential candidates haul out their parkas and mittens and trudge through the living rooms and diners of New Hampshire, hoping their retail politics will impress us with their competence and sincerity and give them the boost they’ll need to head on to other, more temperate states.

And every four years the pundits (you know, the people who get paid to have opinions) and the jealous motel and restaurant owners in nearly every other state renew their speculation about whether white-as-snow New Hampshire really deserves to have the pole (poll?) position on the primary calendar. This query has become more and more difficult for New Hampshire to fend off as the American electorate has become more diverse in its ethnic and racial demography - and the response has morphed toward, “We deserve to be first because we take the process so seriously and get to know the candidates and their views so well that our preferences are incredibly valuable.” In other words, we separate the beef from the buns, the wheat from the chaff, and give the most deserving candidates the legs up they need to go on to, say, South Carolina, which, after all, didn’t even know enough not to start that whole secession thing.

So, here’s my suggestion for how to put an end to this political version of “Groundhog Day” and develop a system that makes everyone actually put their votes where their mouths are: If you want to be first in the primary line or at least move up on the calendar, then let’s base it on how committed you really are. Let’s structure the pecking (picking?) order to reward the states that turn out the largest percentage of their registered voters. New Hampshire will never cast more total votes than California or New York, but if it really cares so much, it might send 70 percent of its voters to the polls versus, say, 55 percent of the voters elsewhere. And if it does that this time around, then it goes first next time.

Sure, we might have a blizzard on primary day and that might tend to depress the turnout in some places, but we’re a hardy bunch here and if we really care about staying first, then we’ll just have to suck it up and hitch a ride on a plow truck, if necessary. Of course, that’s not going to mean we do any better about representing voters of color or different origins, but no state is a perfect microcosm of the national population anyhow.

And just in case you get a chance to read this today before the polls close, I’ll be ready to greet you at the ballot box in Peterborough until 7 p.m. - and if you’re game, we can continue the debate there. At least you’ll have done your part and if my suggestion gains any traction, maybe we’ll be number one next time, too.

L Phillips Runyon III is a lawyer practicing in Peterborough and the former presiding judge of the 8th Circuit Court. He is also the Peterborough Town Moderator.

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