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A better way to choose the American president?

Current system is undemocratic and unfair to the state of Oregon

One of the more undemocratic traditions still alive in this country is the process now under way for selecting the 2008 nominees for president.

Oregon citizens have a special right to feel disenfranchised by a 'system' of primaries that essentially leaves this state with no input into the presidential nominations. By the time Oregon's primary rolls around on May 20, the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire will have already winnowed down the field of candidates, and the Super Tuesday states that vote on Feb. 5 will most likely have finished the job of picking the two people who will compete in November to be leader of an entire nation.

Oregon might at least have chosen to participate in the Feb. 5 mega-primary, but the 2007 state Legislature failed to pass a law that would have moved Oregon's presidential primary election up by three months. Now, this state's citizens are once again left merely to observe in January while a small and unrepresentative slice of the nation's population - the portion that actually votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and other ultra-early states - plays an outsized role in what is arguably the most important decision of a democratic society.

Nearly everyone, of course, realizes that it is long past time to change the herky-jerky process for choosing presidential nominees. No one can argue with a straight face that Iowans, for example, have special qualifications for determining who the nation's next leader should be.

We've all watched as typical Iowa voters have been interviewed endlessly by the television networks, and we've seen that they are no more enlightened or informed than the average Oregonian. The tradition of the Iowa caucuses is just that - a tradition that ought not have any more power in picking presidents than any other state's primary or caucuses.

It's easy to design a better way to pick presidential nominees - the National Association of Secretaries of State already has done so. The difficulty arises in getting such a system implemented.

What the secretaries of state - who are the top election officers in most states - have recommended for several years now is a system of rotating regional primaries. In each presidential election year, a different region of the country would get to go first. The regional primaries would be spaced on the calendar to allow adequate time for candidates to campaign in each region of the country.

The only disadvantage to the plan is that it still allows Iowa and New Hampshire to go first - a concession to the intractability of two states unwilling to give up their oversized influence.

But the regional-primary plan would put some order into a process that is now decided state by state. It would stop the stampede of states trying to establish earlier and earlier primary dates. And over time it would impose some semblance of fairness onto the nomination process.

To be adopted, the plan must be accepted by both major political parties and then endorsed by each state Legislature. That in itself will be a grueling process. But it's one worth undertaking if the goal is to give all Americans - including perennially ignored Oregonians - a say in who should be running for president.