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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

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jonathan Alter Favors the "Open Primary"

UPDATE: Richard Winger, publisher of Ballot Access News, has this op-ed on California's "top two" proposal in the Sacramento Bee.

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In June 2010, California will have a ballot measure for a Louisiana-style "top two" election system, popularly known hereabouts as the "open primary." This proposal is already drawing attention, and, amazingly, Jonathan Alter has endorsed the concept in a Newsweek column. Here's an expanded version of the comment that I posted at the magazine's Web site:

Regarding your last paragraph: The so-called "open primary" is actually a nonpartisan general election with a runoff; Washington state calls it by the more accurate name, "top two."

It's interesting that you didn't mention Louisiana, the only other state that uses this monstrosity to elect all of its state officials (Washington alone uses it for its congressional elections). Louisiana's system certainly has not produced moderates. In the 1991 governor's race, for example, the runoff featured a candidate who had been tried for fraud versus a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1995, the runoff for governor was between a white conservative Republican and a black liberal Democrat (now-U. S. senator Mary Landrieu had finished third).

This "top two" system forces the top two vote-getters to conduct TWO general election campaigns, which makes campaigns more expensive and discourages candidates from running. In recent years, two former Louisiana governors considered running again but decided not to. If the Bayou State had party primaries, they likely would have run, giving the voters more choices.

In November 2004, California voters defeated Proposition 62, a ballot initiative for a "top two" system; it lost in 51 of the state's 58 counties. In 2008, nearly 66 percent of Oregon voters said "no" to M65, a similar ballot measure.

The "top two" also has a devastating effect on independent and minor party candidates, as those candidates almost never make the runoff. If a minor party's message is kept out of the campaign for the final, deciding election, the party loses its main reason for existing.

Why should the voters be limited to just two choices in the final, deciding election?

NOTE: The Louisiana system does not apply to congressional elections; when a candidate there gets 50-plus percent in the first round, there is no runoff. The California proposal, on the other hand, is similar to the system that Washington state used for the first time in 2008: It applies to congressional as well as state elections, and there is always a second round of voting, even if one candidate receives 50-plus percent in the first round.

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