Thursday, February 26, 2009

Speaking of Open Primaries

If you haven't read them already -- or even if you have, you might want to re-read Jonathan Alter's article in last week's Newsweek "Poof Goes the Purple Dream", and this little item about the fight by independents in Idaho to keep the parties out of their voting system...

And as for the big hullabaloo in California over the primaries, I admit to the prize in the "imprecise language" category. The nation's premier ballot access expert Richard Winger sent the following email as a corrective to a post I made last week:

Your blog says "California had open primaries 50 years ago".  California had fusion 50 years ago.  Anyone could file in the primary of any party.  But, each qualified party had its own primary.  In California it was called cross-filing, but in the rest of the country it was and is called fusion.

The term "open primary" has been defined in US Supreme Court decisions and in political science books for over 100 years, to mean that on primary day, a voter is free to choose which party's primary to vote in.

The Maldonado/Schwarzenegger proposal is not an "open primary".  It is a "top-two" primary.

Washington state tried the "top-two" primary for the first time in 2008.  The results:  (1) lower voter turnout in the August 2008 primary than 4 years ago (4 years ago was a classic open primary), and that is according to the Washington Secretary of State's web page.  (2) for the first time since Washington became a state in 1889, there were no minor party or independent candidates on the November ballot for any congressional race or any statewide state race.  (3) Washington state in November 2008 had fewer legislative seats switching parties than the average state did that year, and no US House seats changed hands; and only one incumbent lost in the primary out of 123 state legislative races, and all US House incumbents were re-elected.  Top-two in practice turned out to be very good for incumbents and very bad for people who want to express themselves in November by voting for a minor party or independent candidate.

Thanks, Rich! 

Re: "Top-two in practice turned out to be very good for incumbents and very bad for people who want to express themselves in November by voting for a minor party or independent candidate." Just makes me wonder what the fuss is all about from the parties, then? It's independent VOTERS who are fighting for open primaries -- and "top two" voting systems. More than a third of voters are locked out of voting in the first round in 18 states. Not fair. Not democratic. I wish more minor parties or independent candidates would line up with independent voters on this issue. It would be good for the country. As it stands, seems that a party is a party is a party with self-protective reactions no matter what the size..... -NH


Anonymous said...

In other primary news:

The Indiana Assembly is starting to get the right idea:

Not only should Indiana consider moving up its place in the primary calendar, but they should consider challenging Iowa's primacy by going *before* Iowa. If enough states join them (namely states such as Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, and Florida), then the RNC and DNC will have little choice but to deny Iowa its status as kingmaker.

And it will indeed take many states to challenge the current party system. As we saw in 2008, two states weren't enough to take on such entrenched interests. If Indiana makes the right decision -- and enough states follow suit -- we'll be better on our way to perfecting a system which now tells the majority of us that we are 2nd-class to the citizens of Iowa.


Ross said...

This top two system is a terrible idea. It's a lousy "reform" that doesn't really accomplish anything except shutting out candidates that don't have the backing of a major party (because no one else will be able to get into the top two). It will hurt independents and third parties by giving us less options.

There are so many better options for reform that would actually accomplish something - an alternative voting system, proportional representation, and especially the stopping of gerrymandering.

Steve Rankin said...

When a party has an open primary, its primary ballot is available to any voter who requests it. In almost every state where one major party has an open primary, the other one does too. This gives the voter a choice of either party's ballot on primary day.

The exception is Utah, where the Republicans have a semi-closed primary: independents are invited to participate. The Democrats, on the other hand, have an open primary: all voters-- even registered Republicans-- are invited to participate in the Democratic primary.

Alaska's Republicans, like Utah's Republicans, have a semi-closed primary. The Democrats and the two minor parties list all their candidates on the same primary ballot, which is available to ANY voter (that's a blanket primary).

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