We are currently in the midst of a political season in our state and in our nation. Many of us recently watched the presidential debate between the presumptive nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties. And now many of us are asking the question, “Are these the two best people that our country has to offer running for the highest office in the land?”

Most rational people would answer that question with a resounding, “No!” And this raises my concern about the current system we have for nominating candidates for the office of presidency in our country.

As Americans, we place the opportunity to vote and to let our voices be heard as a God-given right of every eligible citizen. Unfortunately, in recent election cycles, voters have been shortchanged by the evolution of our national primary nominating system. Our current system falls short of our nation’s standards, and ideals, and therefore should be reexamined.

The election process has become too long and too expensive, making it difficult for many candidates who would otherwise make an excellent president. Our most recent primary season demonstrates how outrageous the process has become.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, and the other candidates spent a combined total of $123.4 million in Iowa alone. All of this was done 11 months prior to the Iowa caucuses. Similar spending occurred in New Hampshire, with Haley and her support groups spending $77 million to compete against former President Donald Trump.

The question for all of us is, “Why do we operate a flawed system that unquestionably assumes that Iowa and New Hampshire should go first and have a disproportionate influence on the party’s nomination?”

It’s important to note that this process is not dictated by law. There is no constitutional mandate or outline given to us on how we conduct presidential primaries. It appears to have been haphazardly arranged, through a race to the front of the calendar, with little considered and collaborative input from a multistate or regional perspective. It may be good for Iowa and New Hampshire because they get the multimillion-dollar economic infusion, but I believe it is not good for the country.

The 2024 election cycle started with over a dozen Republican candidates for the presidential office. By the time the Iowa primary finished on Jan. 15, the list of remaining candidates was reduced to Ambassador Haley and former President Trump. After the South Carolina primary, 45 states were either left out or ignored in determining the Republican Party nominee, including our own state of Utah. This has become typical in the election cycle, with most candidates dropping out after only a few states have voted.

Having so little of the country choosing a candidate should be a great concern to the United States electorate. The first four states after which the election was called, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, make up just over 6% of the U.S. population, with an even smaller percentage voting in the primary elections. This means that by the time early declarations are made in favor of one candidate, over 90% of the United States citizenry hasn’t yet had the opportunity to vote. We cannot allow this small group of self-appointed states to hold such an outsized influence on our party nominations.

Fair and free elections should provide a process where all states have a chance to participate in a timely fashion before a decision is made about party nominees.

A better way to pick presidential candidates

Therefore, I recommend a new concept that provides a voice to more voters — call it A Rotating Regional Primary System, which aims to enhance the fairness and efficiency of the presidential primary process.

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Under this system, the United States would be divided into several regional voting districts, while considering factors such as population size, geography and electoral college vote distribution. States would be grouped into these regions, and primary elections would be held simultaneously on designated “Super Tuesday” voting days per region. These days would start in the spring and conclude in the summer of each election cycle.

Moreover, to ensure fairness, each region would be allocated a specific voting day on a rotating basis, which would allow each region an equal opportunity to vote first in the nomination process in their selected year. This approach eliminates the perception of certain states as politically inconsequential and promotes a more accurate representation of the country’s preferences. Furthermore, it encourages candidates to campaign in a larger array of states and regions throughout the country and by condensing the primary calendar, campaigns would be shorter and therefore less costly.

This is a preliminary concept that I feel is a starting place. I’d like us as Americans to have the discussion. I invite others to make suggestions to tweak, modify or improve it. If we are to have an opportunity to vote for the best and brightest to lead this amazing country, WE MUST revisit how we nominate our presidential candidates. Right now, the current system isn’t delivering as we all hoped.

Gary R. Herbert was the 17th governor of Utah. He served from 2009 to 2021.

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