The latest furor over states leap-frogging others to be closer to the front of the line in the primary season would be humorous if it weren’t so detrimental to the process. Florida’s recent attempt to move its Democratic primary to Jan. 29 has roiled party leaders, so much so that they have threatened not to count their votes unless the state pulls back at least a week.

Election budging, a selfish process that lays tradition on its side and advances chaos, begs for a national solution. A solution from the states seems impossible at this stage, for too many state parties appear to be capable of acting only in their self-interests. If the national parties, with perhaps a little help from Congress, can put an end to this mess by establishing a new national calendar, who (other than a few state party leaders) can stand in the way?

There’s nothing wrong, really, with Iowa and New Hampshire leading the way as they traditionally have done. But, then again, there’s nothing wrong with establishing a new national plan that binds every state to an orderly process.

Some political leaders are already testing new ideas. One of them is Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose own state has been caught up in the act. On Tuesday, Minnesota Democrats announced they’ll join Republicans to move up from March to Feb. 5.

Klobuchar has joined with Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman on a bill that would maintain a rotating regional primary schedule by 2012. Smartly, the proposal draws from a plan arrived at in 2000 from a responsible third party, the National Association of Secretaries of State.

The senators’ idea would plot primaries from March to June — a good idea in itself, since today’s January primaries close the window on sometimes-necessary second thoughts. But to generate widespread support, early states on this new schedule should be carefully chosen. A willy-nilly, lets-throw-states-in-the-hat-and-pick-them-out plan will not do. States should be chosen for early primaries based on how closely they reflect nationwide demographics. And they should be balanced by region.

There are other plans out there. Some Republicans favor combining states into four groups according to size, scheduling primaries in one-month intervals from smallest to largest.
At a glance, it may seem unfair to punish large states. But the reality is that if California were grouped early with small states, the small states would tend to get ignored.

It remains to be seen whether any national plan can stick. Change is always difficult. Even today, Floridians have threatened lawsuits in the face of national party ultimatums.
It is questionable whether states legally have much to say in the matter of how parties make their own rules. That thought should strengthen the parties’ resolve, and anyone in Congress contemplating bills capable of restoring sanity to the system.