We’re deep in the primary season — and I have an audacious idea.
This is Trahant Reports.
The primary election is a recent invention. Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1968 without winning a single primary. Walter Mondale and Fred Harris led an effort at the party convention in Chicago to make that happen even though Gene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy had won state primary votes (Kennedy, of course, had been assassinated before the convention.)
The back room deals at the convention were ugly and it led to the modern primary and caucus system.
When I was an editorial page editor I did not like the taxpayers paying for party primary elections. I thought they ought to be open contests, such as Washington state’s top two primary, or completely private party affairs. In a top two primary, only a couple of candidates move on to the November ballot no matter which party they represent. So in most cases it could be a Democrat versus a Republican in November. But not always. It could be a socialist versus a conservative or even two Democrats. It’s who ever wins first and second.
Would that system work in a presidential election? I doubt it. This year is a good example of why that’s not so good an idea; there would be less choice, not more. But we do need to rethink how we elect presidents and come up with a mechanism that makes certain that more than half of the country is on board with the winning candidate. We need more experiments in democracy.
I bring this up because many in Indian Country are wondering about who is winning that vote? Who does Indian Country support?
In most parts of the country Native Americans are Democrats. (There are significant pockets of Native Republicans in Oklahoma and Alaska.)
Here is what we know: Bernie Sanders won one precinct on Iowa’s only reservation. We know that Hillary Clinton won the delegate rich Walker River Paiute Reservation in Nevada. And that Sanders won Duck Valley but that was only a single delegate to the county convention.
There is not enough data to know which candidate “won” Indian Country in Nevada.
So here is my idea (too late for this cycle): What if Indian Country had its own primary?
If there were money to pay for this, tribal election offices could manage the voting. Perhaps there could even be a secondary system set up to count votes from urban populations.
Think about it: There are primary elections for overseas voters. Sanders won the Super Tuesday vote from New Zealand by a margin of 21 to 6. And voters in Guam cast their ballots today. These elections are not just for fun; delegates are at stake.
There is no reason Indian Country cannot get the same treatment.
This makes sense when more and more federal laws and policies are written with “states and tribes” in mind. Letting Indian Country vote adds to that process.
I especially like the idea of tribal voters going first. A wonderful phrase: First Nations … first in the nation.
Remember primary elections and caucuses are party affairs. Democrats and Republicans could just decide that #NativeVotesMatter and make it so. I am Mark Trahant reporting.