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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Monday, May 12, 2008

Debating the "Top Two" Election System

A commenter from Texas named Jim R and I have had an exchange-- not the first-- at Ballot Access News concerning the "top two" election system. The first round of Washington state's new "top two" system is scheduled for August 19.

Jim R wrote: "The purpose of the [so-called] primary in Washington (and Nebraska legislative elections) is to winnow the field."

My response:

The “top two” indeed winnows the field, so that voters have only two choices in the final, deciding election. And it almost always winnows out small-party and independent candidates in the first round.

You could say that party primaries also winnow the field, in that only one candidate per party advances to the general election. But since, in a partisan system, there’s no limit on the number of independents who can appear on the general election ballot, the voters have a potentially unlimited choice, instead of merely two options.

In Party Politics in America, Professor Frank Sorauf says, “As the nominating system that must accompany the nonpartisan election, the nonpartisan primary puts all candidates for the office on one ballot… . The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes at the primary become the candidates for the nonpartisan general election.”

Other than Louisiana– and now Washington– Nebraska is the only state that uses nonpartisan (or “top two”) elections for its legislature (Louisiana, to be sure, uses the "top two" for all of its state and local elections, while Washington will use it for its congressional, state, and local elections).

You’re obviously enthralled with the “top two” monstrosity, Jim R. Again I ask: have you contacted any Texas legislators about getting that wonderful system enacted in the Lone Star state? And since you like Nebraska’s setup so well, you should also ask your legislators to make Texas the second state with a one-house legislature.

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