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Rotate primaries

Caucus-goers arrive at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2011.

Caucus-goers arrive at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2011.

Dubuque Telegraph Herald/Associated Press

The following editorial appeared recently in the Dallas Morning News:

Americans are at that point on the political calendar between Iowa and New Hampshire, when two small states are again determining which presidential candidates stay and which ones go. What's interesting about this year's GOP presidential primary schedule is that the party has laid the groundwork for a set of regional primaries that would give voters beyond Iowa and New Hampshire a greater voice in selecting winners and losers.

The National Association of Secretaries of State, whose members administer elections nationwide, has pushed for a system of rotating regional primaries. Different parts of the country would take turns hosting primaries in February, March, April and May of a presidential election year.

The concept could work like this in 2016: The West would kick off in February, followed by the South in March, the Midwest in April and the Northeast in May. Or there could be more, smaller regional primaries to assure that candidates engage in "retail politics" a la Iowa and New Hampshire.

By staggering the elections, voters in those states would get a chance to meet, greet and spend time with candidates. To make it fair, the regions would rotate their order every four years. That way, no one part of the country would dominate the selection of presidential nominees year after year.

Yes, New Hampshire and Iowa voters expertly grill candidates, but they have a disproportionate say in screening candidates. Those two states, with a combined population in the 2010 census of 4.3 million, get to decide for a nation of about 312 million residents which candidates compete for a presidential nomination.

Fortunately, Republicans decided to modify this year's nominating schedule. The party has spread the primaries across several months.

There's still early bunching in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, but the system is not as front-loaded as in 2008.

That year, as the national party recently reported, 29 states held contests between Jan. 3 and Feb. 5. More than half of the GOP delegates were awarded during that period.

This year, only six states will have voted by Feb. 5. And they will award only 7 percent of delegates.

Republicans laid the groundwork for a system of rotating regional primaries in 2016. Democrats should do the same. (Democrats have a primary system this year, too, but with President Barack Obama the obvious nominee, nobody's paying much attention to them.)

The fact that Republicans are trying something different is encouraging for voters beyond New Hampshire and Iowa. It would be a big step forward to have a 2016 schedule that allows more voters to determine winners and losers.