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Voters may get more say




FRANKFORT

Beginning with Iowa and New Hampshire, states across the country have lined up to be courted by presidential hopefuls looking to occupy the Oval Office.

But Kentucky, the state that gave birth to Abraham Lincoln, for the most part can only sit back and watch, due to its late primary date. The state’s top election official and the state Senate president, pushing different plans, are looking to change that come four years from now.

After all, the last time Kentucky didn’t correctly pick the winning president in the general election was 1960 when it selected Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy.

“We’re obviously irrelevant when it comes to Super Tuesday,” Secretary of State Trey Grayson said last week about Kentucky. “We have a shot at being more relevant.”

Coast to coast, more than 20 states took part in presidential primaries on Feb. 5, weighing in on who the Democratic and Republican candidates should be this November. Not Kentucky, whose primary doesn’t happen until May 20 this year.

By the time the Bluegrass state gets its say in the presidential race, all but Montana, Oregon and South Dakota – and Republicans in Idaho and New Mexico – will have held presidential primaries.

Grayson supports a rotating regional primary plan and hopes it could be in place for the 2012 election.

The National Association of Secretaries of State, of which Grayson is treasurer and an executive committee member, has supported the plan for nearly a decade, Grayson spokesman Les Fugate said. Grayson was the main speaker at the group’s annual winter meeting in Washington last week, where he touted the plan and the organization released a report calling for its adoption.

Rotating regional primaries means dividing the country into four regions. Each grouping of states would hold their primaries four months apart, and the order would rotate every four years. So, each region would get to go first every 16 years.

Nationally, Republican and Democratic party leaders are pondering the change, Grayson said, pointing out that there are others also under consideration.

There are different ways a rotating primary could take effect. Each state could enter into a compact to adopt it; Congress could pass a law, although there is some question on constitutionality; and the two major political parties could adopt the plan and figure out how to have states accountable, Fugate said.

A separate proposal by Senate President David Williams, like Grayson a Republican, is more immediate and – unlike rotating primaries – doesn’t require approval from anyone outside of Kentucky. It would allow the state to join with other states on Super Tuesday.

“Well, we would have an opportunity to vote,” Williams said of his plan that sailed through the state Senate earlier this month.

It would cost Kentucky between $5 million to $7 million, Grayson said.

The expense would be worthwhile because it gives Kentuckians a louder voice in choosing the president, Williams has said.

Following Super Tuesday, John McCain sealed the GOP nomination with Mitt Romney’s departure on Feb. 7. Meanwhile, Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama remained in a close race.

“To me, the outcome of Super Tuesday shows the system is still broken, it still needs to be fixed and our plan is the best way to do that,” said Grayson, who supported Romney’s candidacy. “As a Kentuckian, I’m used to not having a direct say in the presidential nominating process. Whether I was for Mitt Romney or John McCain, I just know that I don’t have much of an impact.”

The front-loaded nature of the primary system this year made it tough for candidates with less financial prowess – such as John Edwards or Bill Richardson, Grayson said. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of the Democratic race – pitting two well-financed, well-known opponents against each other – ultimately may keep Kentucky in play, Grayson said.

“It’s possible that voters will be enfranchised all along the country,” Grayson said.

As for Kentucky possibly joining Super Tuesday states, Williams’ proposal faces an uncertain future in the Democratcontrolled House, one lawmaker said.

Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, chairman of the House elections committee where Williams’ bill is pending, said last week he hadn’t seen the proposal.

Owens said he was open to change, but pointed out that Kentucky Democrats may have more say this year because of the tight race between Obama and Clinton.

“I think we might very well wind up being relevant,” Owens said. “A lot of times the election could be over on Super Tuesday, but this time I think we might wind up being a player.”

A spokesman for Gov. Steve Beshear, Dick Brown, did not have an immediate response about whether the governor supports changing the current system.

Frankfort resident Jonathan Curry, a mental health professional, said he would like to see more candidates campaign in Kentucky. He realizes, though, that Kentucky’s small population may hinder those efforts.

“I feel left out of the process, since we’re not able to be part of the early primary process,” Curry said. “I would love to see the candidates come and campaign here. I also realize we’re not a very populous state.”

State leaders from both major parties say they’re at least open to change.

Jennifer Moore, Democratic chairwoman, said a different system would likely lead to more focus on Kentucky.

“We need to be open to discussion on changing the primary system, whether we look at more regional primaries or something else,” Moore said. “We definitely need to look at improving the system so more people have a voice.”

Her Republican counterpart, Steve Robertson, said cost, however, is a factor.

“It would be great if Kentucky could have a more prominent voice in the presidential primaries,” Robertson said through a spokeswoman. “But our main concern is always how much moving the primaries is going to cost local governments.”

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the current primary system is “totally nuts” and needs to be changed. Sabato, however, feels the rotating regional proposal supported by Grayson is not without flaws. Sabato suggests a more random, lottery-type regional system would be better.

In a set rotating system, presidential candidates would know which states would be the early electoral battlegrounds and would still set up shop well in advance, Sabato said, and would simply switch states each time around.

“The whole point is to keep them from moving into a region and starting a full-blown presidential campaign years in advance like they do in Iowa and New Hampshire,” Sabato said.


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