Election officers want later 2012 primary start

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The nation's election administrators are determined to shorten the 2012 presidential contest by pressing for a later start to primary voting.

Meeting in Minneapolis at their annual conference Friday, leading members of the National Association of Secretaries of State said they hoped to persuade Democrats and Republicans to prevent the type of calendar frontloading that triggered such an early start to last year's nominating season.

Iowa kicked off the 2008 voting with its Jan. 3 caucuses. New Hampshire's voting followed five days later.

"I hear from everyone involved in this debate that the early start dates - and the uncertainty of those start dates - were not good for the public, were not good for the candidates, were not good for democracy," said Kentucky's Trey Grayson, a Republican and incoming president of the national Secretaries of State group.

Iowa Secretary of State Mike Mauro, a Democrat, said his state's caucuses came earlier than ever because other states were encroaching on Iowa's traditional first-in-line status. The Iowa campaign reached its climax amid the Christmas and New Year's holiday bustle.

"It puts an extreme burden on everybody," Mauro said. "It draws out the process. I don't think the candidates want it. I know the states don't want it."

Committees for both national political parties are meeting over the next few months. They're expected to make recommendations on their respective nominating calendars by January. It will be longer before anything is adopted.

A resolution establishing the Democratic commission sets a goal of preventing any voting before February 2012. Meanwhile, Republicans are working to "ensure that everyone is aware of the primary calendar well ahead of the primary season," party spokesman LeRoy Coleman said.

Secretaries of state involved in primary issues said moving primaries out of January would be a start. Beyond that, they'd like to see a move toward regional primaries to follow the Iowa and New Hampshire voting.

The rotating regional primary idea has been on the table for several years but gained little traction.

The national group's plan would divide the country into East, South, Midwest and West regions, with each having a primary once a month from March to June. The initial order for primaries would be set by lottery and shift sequentially every four years.

Advocates say it would draw in more voters, allow cash-strapped candidates to focus their campaigning and bring a broader array of issues into the nominating process. For example, water-use issues could drive debate in the West while agriculture could dominate the discussion in the Midwest.

But the hurdles to enacting it are steep. Aside from getting the political parties onboard, the plan would require states to amend their election laws.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, said a change of that magnitude would be "enormously difficult" to achieve, at least in time for the next presidential election.

"One of the real issues is if Congress needs to act and say this is the way it needs to be," Reed said. "There's resistance to that obviously, but that is a possibility."


(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)