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Democracy Dies In Primaries

Democracy Dies In Primaries

Authored by Nick Troiano via RealClear Wire,

Hillary Clinton recently told voters unhappy with the two 2024 presidential candidates this year: “Get over yourself.” With that comment, she not only dismissed the tens of millions of voters who had no say in choosing Biden and Trump, but also the two-thirds of voters overall who are frustrated with a rematch they do not want.

There’s an exhausted majority of voters eager for something different, yet our broken system simply doesn’t allow it. Look no further than No Labels, whose attempt to field a bipartisan presidential ticket collapsed because no candidate was willing to be a “spoiler” in an election system that disadvantages, even prevents, new competition.

The real problem isn’t who we’re electing, it’s how we’re electing them. 

Not only did the vast majority of us have no say in choosing the two presidential candidates, a similarly tiny fraction of voters is deciding most of Congress. So far in 2024, nearly a third of U.S. House seats have already been decided by only 3% of eligible votes in the eight states that have held primaries for offices other than the presidency. In 2022, 8% of voters elected 83% of Congress.

Primaries have long been low-turnout affairs dominated by the extremes of both parties. But shockingly, millions of voters don’t have the right to vote in them – even though their taxpayer dollars fund them. In 22 states this year, 23.5 million independent voters are disenfranchised by closed primaries for president or state offices. 

Nationwide, there are more independents than Democrats or Republicans. Nearly half of veterans identify as politically independent, as do a majority of young people. Because of our primary system, we’re telling those who fought for our country and those who are the future of our country that their voices don’t matter.

The reason our elected leaders don’t seem to represent us is because, quite literally, most of us don’t elect them. 

How do we fix this broken system? With two powerful changes: One, allow all eligible voters – including independents – to cast ballots for any candidate, regardless of party, in every taxpayer-funded election. Two, require candidates to secure a majority of votes to win an election. 

Consider how the 2024 election might have been different had these principles been in effect. First, had the GOP required a majority winner in the 2016 primaries, Donald Trump might not have become the nominee with only a plurality (45%) of the vote. Second, without Trump’s victory that year, there would likely be no Biden rematch in 2024, and therefore no efforts to run candidates like Dean Phillips off primary ballots. Third, majority-winner elections using ranked choice voting would level the playing field for independent and third party candidates rather than dismissing them out of hand as spoilers.

Primary elections have evolved dramatically over the past century – leaving behind party bosses nominating candidates in private, smoke-filled rooms to embrace the ballot box. It’s time to continue that great American tradition. 

Nearly half a dozen states have already adopted some version of these two principles for either their presidential or statewide elections – a move that is supported by nearly three in four voters nationwide.

In 2020, Alaska voters approved an all-candidate primary that advances four candidates to the general election, where an instant runoff produces a majority winner. In 2022, this reform led to the election of a conservative governor, moderate Republican senator, and moderate Democratic representative in 2022 – all on the same ballot. Overall, the state saw a 60% increase in the number of voters who cast ballots in competitive elections where their vote actually mattered.

California’s top-two primary system – enacted more than a decade ago under then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – has also infused more competition into its elections than would otherwise exist, meaning more Californians are casting meaningful votes.  

This fall, citizen initiatives to open primaries are underway in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota because voters want a functional, representative government.

The way we “get over” the frustrations of our current presidential rematch is by following the example of voters in these states who are demanding a better system that lives up to our nation’s ideals as a Democratic republic. 


Tue, 04/16/2024 – 15:25

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