The American Plan
The Problem -

A Rush to Judgment:
Determining the nominee early hurts the parties.
  • A short campaign does not fully vet nominees or issues.
  • Writing a check has become more important than casting a vote. Since 1980, 13 of the 14 presidential nominees--in both parties--were those who raised the most money by December 31 of the previous year.
  • There are 4 months of dead air until the national convention.
The American Plan:The Graduated Random Presidential Primary System, or The American Plan(sometimes known as the California Plan), is designed to begin with contests in small-population states, where candidates do not need tens of millions of dollars in order to compete. A wide field of presidential hopefuls will be competitive in the early going. A "minor candidate's" surprise successes in the early rounds, based more on the merit of the message than on massive amounts of money, will tend to attract money from larger numbers of small contributors for the campaign to spend in later rounds of primaries.

Thus there should be more longevity of candidacy, and more credible challengers to the "front-runners." However, as the campaign proceeds, the aggregate value of contested states becomes successively larger, requiring the expenditure of larger amounts of money in order to campaign effectively. A gradual weeding-out process occurs, as less-successful candidates drop out of the race.

The goal is for the process to produce a clear winner in the end, but only after all voices have had a chance to be heard.

The system features a schedule consisting of ten intervals, generally of two weeks, during which randomly selected states may hold their primaries.

In the first interval, states with a combined total of eight congressional districts would hold their primaries, caucuses, or conventions. This is approximately equal to the total number of congressional districts in Iowa (5) and New Hampshire (2), thus preserving the door-to-door "retail politicking."

Any state or combination of states amounting to a total of eight congressional districts could be in the first round of primaries and caucuses, including areas that have large proportions of people of color. The District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, which also send delegates to both national conventions, are each counted as one district in this system.

In the second period--two weeks later--the eligibility number would increase to 16 (8 x 2). In the baseline design of the American Plan, every two weeks, the combined size of the contests would grow by eight congressional districts, until a combination of states totaling 80 congressional seats (8 x 10)--nearly one-fifth of the total--would be up for grabs in the tenth and last interval toward the end of June.

Because our biggest states are much more populous than the other states, this baseline design would allow California, which has 53 districts, to vote no earlier than the seventh interval, in which the eligibility number is 56 (8 x 7). To put California on equal footing with the other populous states, the order of Rounds 4 through 10 is staggered: 8, 16, 24, 56, 32, 64, 40, 72, 48, 80.

With this adjustment, the four most populous states are all eligible to vote by the fourth of ten rounds. Since only eleven percent of the American electorate votes in the first three intervals, these large states can figure early enough in the delegate selection process to have as meaningful an input as any state.

The American Plan treats all states even-handedly; on average, the smallest states are scheduled at random to vote after 32.5% of the country has voted, but for the largest states this figure is no higher than 45.5%, a spread of only 13 points.

Recommendation -

The American Plan: Good for all states, good for America.

  • Accomplishes recommendations of the Vanishing Voter Project, Kennedy School of Government:
    • "A nominating process that remains competitive for a longer period of time in order to give the public a greater opportunity to engage the campaign and to become informed about the candidates."
    • "A briefer interval between the decisive contests and the conventions in order to help people sustain the levels of public engagement and information they had attained when the nominating campaign peaked."
    • "A system that increases the likelihood that voters in all states will have an effective voice in the selection of the nominees."
  • Preserves door-to-door "retail politicking" in small states early in the season. Gives an under-funded grass-roots campaign a chance to catch fire and take off. Gives candidates a chance to bounce back from early defeats.
  • Has the merits of the "Delaware Plan" nearly approved by the Republican Party in 2000, but gives all states a chance to be among the early primary dates.
  • Published in peer-reviewed journal: PS: Political Science and Politics, January 2004.


Swing States Option

The Swing States Option would reserve one half of the districts in each of Rounds 1 through 3 to "swing" states, where the general election is expected to be competitive. This option would give an advantage to the candidate who appeals to broadest spectrum of the electorate, better ensuring the party’s victory in the general election.


The Graduated Random Presidential Primary System, or American Plan, is at the same time both random in composition, yet predictable in structure. The composition of the schedule favors no one state or one region. Meanwhile, the structure of the system enables the widest possible political debate in the early stages of the presidential primary schedule, yet provides a gradual winnowing process as the price of staying in the game increases with each successive round. A successful candidate need not start out well heeled, but will cross the finish line fully vetted. He or she need not hail from any particular region of the country, but must appeal to the whole nation.

America deserves such a president, and America deserves a rational, systematic presidential nomination process for the 21st century.

For further information, see The American Plan Factsheets

Further information by American Plan inventor Thomas Gangale

July 15th 2007
However it's broken, it's time to fix primary process
San Jose Mercury News

There is no policy in the United States for how to run presidential nominations. That's the idea behind FairVote's new effort,, which aims for a national commission to establish a saner process in 2012.

April 16th 2007

New Yorker essayist and FairVote Board member Hendrik Hertzberg comments on the dangerous stampede of states to the front of the presidential primary schedule, and the value of the National Popular Vote plan for creating fair presidential elections.

March 15th 2007
Why This Primary Push?
Washington Post

George Will calls for a FairVote solution to the front-loading of presidential primary elections in a mid-March editorial.

March 6th 2007
Nation's Presidential Primary Calendar Is a Political Tragedy
Roll Call

Former U.S. Senator endorses the American Plan as a solution to front-loading of presidential primary elections.

December 5th 2005
A better plan needed for primaries
Rocky Mountain News

According to FairVote's Ryan O'Donnell, the Democrats should be considering the American Plan rather than moving Colorado or Nevada earlier in the primary season.

November 30th 2005
Presidential races don't value state, group says
Aberdeen News

FairVote's Who Picks the President? report sparks discussion about primary reform

November 29th 2005
S.D. has little say in picking president

News article about FairVote's Who Picks the President report focuses on changes to make South Dakota voters a player in presidential elecitons. Runs on state Associated Press wire in several papers.

November 28th 2005
America needs a fair Presidential primary schedule for all states
Manchester Union Leader

Getting a fair primary schedule doesn't mean front-loading the early season with more states, argues FairVote's Ryan O'Donnell in a featured commentary in New Hampshire's largest newspaper.

November 9th 2005
Primary reform good for Nebraska
Lincoln Journal Star

An editorial using FairVote's report Who Picks the President to underscore the importance of electoral college and primary schedule reform.

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