One of the highest ranking members in the United States Senate is calling for a big change in the way we run our elections. In a New York Times Op-ed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blamed partisan primaries for much of the polarization and gridlock in Washington right now. So he is calling for a national movement to replace it with a top two primary system. From the Op-ed:
We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.
California, which probably mirrors the diversity of America more than any other state, was racked by polarization until voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that adopted a “top-two” primary system. The move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern. Louisiana has used a similar system since the 1970s, and Washington State since 2008. Voters in Colorado and Oregon will consider proposals later this year.
This top-two primary idea has some fairly serious political support and money behind it. The main reason it seems poised to potentially expand to Oregon is because several deep pocketed donors are willing to put up the money for signature gathering campaigns to get it on the ballot. Trying to expand it to states without a ballot initiative process, though, is not going to be easy since it will require elected politicians to change the rules which helped get them in elected in the first place.
Regardless of how you feel about this particular proposal I’m at least happy to start seeing some public acknowledgement from top politicians that our problems aren’t just a few bad actors but are the result of systematic issues. We really should be thinking about how to change the way we run our elections so the makeup of Congress actually reflects the will of the electorate.
Photo by Third Way under Creative Commons license