New Group Seeks to Implement Top Two Open Primary in Arizona

The California Independent Voter Network recently expanded into Arizona, a state where registered Independents now outnumber Democrats and are quickly gaining on Republicans.  A multipartisan group of former elected officials there have formed a new group that wants to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012 that would implement nonpartisan, top-two style primaries like that passed by voters in California last year.  From AZIVN:
The Open Government Committee, as the newly-formed organization is called, began to take shape earlier this year.  In an op-ed for The Arizona Republic in April, Paul Johnson argued that partisan politics is wrecking our country . . . He concluded the article with a call for nonpartisan primaries and invited like-minded individuals to join him in an effort to reform the primary process, writing:
“If you want to change the current system disproportionately dominated by the special interests of the two parties, we need help.  We will need a monumental effort to collect signatures, legal volunteers to defend against the parties who will not release power easily, and to help get our message out to voters.”

Since then, Johnson has been joined in his effort by a number of former lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties.  Among them are former Republican party congressional candidate Paulina Morris, former GOP lawmakers Carolyn Allen and Bill Konopnicki, and former Democratic legislator Ted Downing . . .

Supporters of the top-two primary system favored by the Open Government Committee argue that it will encourage voter participation among Independents, provide for more competitive elections, and potentially lead to the election of more moderate candidates for public office . . .

Opponents of the top-two system argue that though it may expand choice in the primary election, it reduces choice in the general election to just two candidates – who could very well be from the same party –, while potentially pushing third party and Independent candidates out of the political system altogether.  Ballot access expert Richard Winger states that, in practice, the blanket primary and top-two style system do not in fact result in the election of more moderate candidates in states where they have previously been implemented such as Louisiana and Washington.  “When someone tells you that we need a top-two open primary to get more moderate politicians in office, ask them for evidence,” wrote Winger in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Daily News.

The Morrison Institute report, which favors a nonpartisan primary, admits the lack of evidence in two footnotes . . .
Read the rest.  Of course, the top two style primary is not the only way to bring about the results its supporters desire.  Richard Winger listed five potential alternatives at Ballot Access News in September 2009, when the system was being debated in California:
1. California could return to cross-filing, which was used between 1914 and 1958. This is the California term for fusion. The California legislature between 1914 and 1958 was known for being very non-ideological, with a substantial number of legislators having been nominated by both major parties.
2. California could try non-partisan elections for the state legislature. The voters considered this idea in 1915 but defeated it.
3. California could try a classic open primary, in which the practice of voters joining political parties on the voter registration form is abolished. Then, on primary day, each party has its own primary ballot, but all voters are free to choose any party’s primary ballot.
4. California could try a system in which any candidate is free to either run in the “top-two” primary, or instead skip the primary and qualify directly for the November ballot. The California blanket primary, used in 1998 and 2000, had this characteristic to a certain degree; independent candidates stayed out of the primary and petitioned directly to the November ballot. In this proposed new system (which has never been tried in any state), candidates could choose to run in the primary, and the top two vote-getters would be on the November ballot. Candidates who ran in the primary and didn’t place in the top two would not be able to appear on November ballot. However, candidates who skipped the primary could qualify for the November ballot. The incentive a candidate to run in the primary would be that the candidate expects to qualify among the top-two and wishes to campaign in the primary season.
5. California could use Instant-Runoff Voting and abolish the primary completely.
Or, alternatively to the last alternative, a state could implement range voting or score voting.


Dale Sheldon-Hess said...

Ahhhh; it's all so clear now.

Top-two primaries are promoted by "a multipartisan group of former elected officials."

In other words, (former) Democratic and Republican officer holders. Not third-party candidates, and certainly not voters.

I don't usually buy the "conspiracy theory" line as a reason for two-party domination, but it's entirely apt in this case: they KNOW this will hurt third-party and independent candidates, but they're trying to sell it to voters as if it doesn't.

(And thanks as always for the range/score shout-out.)

TiradeFaction said...

Dale's right, the "Jungle" (or whatever you want to call it now) primary is a means to further discriminate against outside players from a chance to enter our political arena. It's not going to get more third parties election, or independents.

Winger had sensible alternatives there (along with possibly Approval voting, or Range voting).

I kind of wish we would bring back fusion voting here. Along with some ranked choice system, might be a good combination.

Anyway, I hope we get a chance sometime in the future to repeal the jungle primary, I'll certainly vote for it (it's repeal).

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

It's not a conspiracy, these peoplw ill tell you to your face that they are anti-political parties in general. Especially those people at - I got into a very enlightening conversation with a few of them about how top two creates a choke point that makes it harder for underdog candidates of any kind to succeed (not just non major party candidates), mostly by shortening the calendar, and her response amounted to "so what?".

Open primaries are fine, but the top two aspect is VERY dangerous, and these groups pushing it behind the banner of open primaries are tricking people into thinking they're doing something that is better for independents and centrist/moderate types, when it's actually the opposite.

wjk said...

Learn the Truth about Top Two as a Third Party OPPORTUNITY - break out of the echo chamber!
William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
Twitter: wjkno1
YouTube: WJKPhD

Leonidas said...

top two systems will just be the next weapon used by the Democrats and Republicans to wipe out all opposition.

Funny thing is they don't have to fire it, it is like a suicide bomber vest that some moderates are more than happy to strap on thinking they will get 72 virgins for doing so in the afterlife or something.