Fix the system before 2012

Yet another argument in favor of a completely overhauled presidential primary system in 2012 should hardly be necessary, but the latest flap over Michigan and Florida's disqualifed Democratic delegates is a good one.

Not only is the situation a perfect example of what's wrong with the current hodgepodge of nominating events, it could also be a trap for one presidential hopeful this year. And we don't mean Sen. Barack Obama.

Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign is arguing that, should neither Clinton nor Obama win enough delegates to secure the nomination, the Democratic Party should seat Florida's and Michigan's delegates at the Denver convention in August.

Never mind that the party punished those states for moving their primaries up the calendar. Never mind that, as a result, the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in either state. Never mind that in Michigan, only Clinton's name appeared on the ballot because the other candidates withdrew.

Some Democrats want the delegates seated because to do otherwise would effectively nullify the efforts of those Democrats who took the trouble to vote. That would be a compelling argument if the votes actually meant something.

But in Michigan in particular, "uncommitted" polled nearly 40 percent of the vote, equal to 55 delegates. And former Sen. John Edwards was still in the race, although not on the ballot. So those voters were saying, in effect, "we don't support Clinton." But who did they support? It would hardly make sense to award all those delegates to Obama when some voters undoubtedly supported Edwards.

The danger to Clinton in all of this is that she could come off looking like she will do anything to win the nomination, right down to rewriting the rules one of her top advisers voted for as a member of the Democratic National Committee. That's not the kind of image a nominee wants to carry into the general election.

The irony in all of this is that the two states' legislators were trying to gain clout by moving their primaries into January. Had they stayed put, they would be major players now.

But the states don't control the nomination process. The parties do. And fixing the nominating mess will take a concerted effort and lengthy negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders between now and 2012.

It isn't just the Democrats who have reason to rethink their system, although many in that party are coming to regret rule changes in past years that resulted in proportional allocation of delegates and thus this year's deadlocked nomination fight. The Republicans, with their winner-take-all system, have all but chosen a nominee, but they, too, should welcome a saner schedule.

A system of rotating regional primaries would ensure that candidates could campaign effectively for each primary date and give all states a more equal shot at the attention that results when national campaigns come to town.

It's too late to fix the process this year. Perhaps Texas and Ohio will deliver a clear winner to the Democrats. Perhaps not.

But now is the time to start fixing what's broken before we go through all of this the next time.

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