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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, December 14, 2009

The "Open Primary" Debate Rages On

In June 2010, California will have a ballot measure for a Louisiana-style nonpartisan election system.[1] This is popularly called an "open primary," but its more accurate name is the "top two." Below is an excerpt from my latest exchange at Ballot Access News with Jim Riley of Texas, who considers the "top two" to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

JIM: But instead of a first election to choose party nominees, [the first round of the "top two"] would be to choose the nominees of the voters.

STEVE: You have a strange definition for “nominees.” Suppose the parties decided to exercise their First Amendment right to nominate candidates in advance of the first round of the “top two,” and two of those party nominees were the top vote-getters in the first round. Would those two candidates then be considered to be twice-nominated?

The purpose of the first round of the “top two” is to winnow the field to two candidates. In their book Primary Elections, incidentally, Charles Merriam and Louise Overacker refer to the "top two" as a “double election.”

JIM: There should be no way to keep candidates from running for office [in the "top two" after they have lost a party's nomination].

STEVE: Anyone who seeks a party’s nomination is indeed “running for office.” If you don’t believe it, ask Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney.

JIM: There should be no assurance that a party... has a candidate in the general election.

STEVE: Well, let’s see now. In all 50 states, each qualified party has the power to have one presidential candidate in the general election.

In 49 states– all but Washington– each qualified party is authorized to have one candidate for the US Senate and each US House seat in the general election.

In 48 states– all but Washington and Louisiana– each qualified party is empowered to have one candidate for all or most state offices in the general election.

So if you’re going to reverse this trend, you’ve got one helluva job ahead of you.

JIM: There should be no assurance that there won’t be two candidates from the same party in the general election.

STEVE: Why not? Again, given the numbers I’ve cited above, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you...

JIM: The national and California Republican parties supported different presidential candidates in 1912 [the national party backed William Howard Taft, while the California GOP backed the Progressive Party nominee, Theodore Roosevelt]...

STEVE: Yes, and a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, won the 1912 presidential election, didn’t he? That’s what usually happens when a party is split in the general election– it loses [of course, it's possible for both runoff candidates in the "top two" to be from the same party, which disenfranchises the other parties' loyal voters].

I keep wondering, Jim, when you’re going to tell at least one member of the Texas legislature about the glories of your beloved “top two.” Don’t you think your fellow Texans have suffered under the yoke of party primaries long enough?

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[1] All candidates, including independents, run in the same election. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, move on to the runoff. Currently, only Louisiana and Washington state use this system to elect all of their state officials; Washington alone uses it to elect its congressional delegation.

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