By Mark Bauer
Our friends at Unite America earlier this month released a report outlining a summer mashup that would put Marvel movies to shame: Nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting. Together, they have real potential to shake up elections to make sure elected officials are selected in a process that is more representative of the electorate.
The report identified what it called the “Primary Problem,” finding that an astounding 83 percent of Congressional races in 2020 were decided by 10 percent of the voting population. How is that possible? Most Congressional districts are drawn so that they are considered “safe” for a particular party, meaning that despite how many voters might turnout for the general election, the votes with the most consequence are those cast in the party primaries. That results in a subset of a subset of voters ultimately deciding who represents an entire district in Congress.
In a column in The Atlantic, Nick Troiano, executive director for Unite America, outlines how nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting could pack the one-two punch to put an end to the ever-increasing polarization in American politics.
First, hold nonpartisan primaries
Instead of the two parties holding separate primaries, all candidates compete in one nonpartisan primary where the top four candidates in that election are placed on the general election ballot.
Second, implement ranked choice voting in the general election
When it’s time for voters to cast their ballots for those remaining four candidates in November, they would then be able to rank their choice of candidate through ranked choice voting—a vote tallying system that attempts to make sure candidates are selected by a majority of votes. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, a winner is decided in an “instant runoff” based on how voters ranked the candidates on their ballots.
And that’s how you solve the “Primary Problem” in American politics! However, if the thought of eliminating party primaries makes you uneasy, it might make you feel better knowing that humankind has been participating in manned flight longer than we’ve been voting in party primaries.
Troiano explains in his Atlantic column: “For much of American history, party leaders would pick their party’s candidates without any public participation at all. … That changed in the Progressive Era, when reformers sought to crack down on political corruption. Wisconsin became the first state to allow voters to directly nominate candidates for each party through primary elections in 1904, and within a decade, a majority of states were doing the same.
Reformers got the problem right, but the solution wrong. Rather than empowering voters, direct primaries enshrined a role for political parties, which are private entities, in a publicly funded electoral process. And in so doing, the party bases became the new party bosses.”
Mark Bauer is a producer, entrepreneur, day trader and former Independent candidate for Congress in Texas. Previously he spent 10 years as a legal journalist covering the legal market in Texas and regulatory issues in Washington DC. Mark’s primary interests involve using content and storytelling to help different groups of people better understand one another.