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Friday, May 16, 2014

Reforming Primary Elections

For John, BLUFYour idea, in print.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

Below I am going to print the whole letter to the editor of The [Lowell] Sun from today's edition of the paper.  The letter is important because of the question it asks about primary elections in the Commonwealth.  It is my opinion that the letter writer, Ms Evelyn Dougherty, of Jamacia Plain, Chair of the Mass Coalition of Independent Voters, approaches the solution, but then veers off on the California solution, which is to ignore parties.  As one Commenter notes, that risks, in States like Massachusetts, locking in one party.  The problem is that one party rule is an invitation to eventual corruption.
Independent voters are coming together in Massachusetts to play a role in the mid-term elections, but it's not the role we are usually cast in by the media as "swing voters."  Instead, on primary day, Sept. 9, we'll be working to be visible at a time when we are most invisible.

Primary elections are a critical juncture in the democratic process.  They are often the most competitive. But in Massachusetts, independents are forced to select a party ballot and are unable to split their ticket and vote for the best candidate, not the party, as they prefer.

This is the independent's plight: we are first-class taxpayers when it comes to funding the administration of elections, but second-class voters.  Do you think this is fair, given the Democratic and Republican parties are private entities?

A recent Gallup poll shows 42 percent of Americans identify themselves as independent.  In Massachusetts it's even higher at 52 percent, making the issue all the more urgent as a large and growing segment of the electorate is marginalized in its voting powers by partisan primary systems.

Massachusetts independents support alternative approaches to the current system of private party primaries.  In a Top Two nonpartisan primary, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are on a single ballot and all voters vote on this ballot.  Boston's recent mayoral election is an example of a Top Two nonpartisan primary.

The top two vote-getters go to the general election.  In California such a system has resulted in more competitive elections, less legislative gridlock and candidates being more attentive to their entire constituent base.

On primary day, Massachusetts independents will be making ourselves seen and heard in new ways.  We will be holding informational pickets at polling places, calling on state legislators, writing letters, getting signatures and bringing attention to this flaw in our elections process.

A change is clearly needed, so that the voices of millions of independent voters who do not now have full voting rights can be heard.  We hope to lead the way to a government less hampered by partisanship and more able to move ahead with the business of our country.

I believe Ms Dougherty's paragraph on California makes the point.  You pick amongst Democrats for office and you will have more uniformity in the Legislature and less gridlock.  On the other hand, you give much less scope to the opposition to oppose, which is necessary to ensure minority rights in a legislature.

But, yes, why should independent voters fund primaries.  Let the Parties hold caucuses and conventions and unburden the taxpayers, and exclude the independents from the primary process.  Let them form their own parties.  But, don't give us a cure worse than the disease.

Regards  —  Cliff

1 comment:

Craig H said...

I think the author misses the point by implying that unenrolled voters need freer plebiscite for candidates at the primary stage. This is BS. Primaries exist solely for the benefit of political parties to select their candidates on the general taxpayers' dime. Unenrolled voters should have no interest whatsoever in such outcomes. At whatever point the unenrolled voter feels compelled to advance the candidacy of certain candidates who are from entrenched political parties, well, it's up to them to swallow their pride and join that party.

The larger point, and I think you make it well, is that private parties should fund their own caucuses and/or primary elections, and unenrolled voters should have and need no interest in that process. The election itself is where all voters have their equal say. Failure of the party system to advance reasonable candidates can, as you rightly point out, spur unenrolled voters to join or form their own parties to strengthen the representative democratic process. Unless and until party primaries are wrested from their lip-lock on the public teat, it will continue to be dysfunctional system for all.

Which is to say, I am fully agreed that free access for unenrolled voters to party political primaries and/or caucuses is a cure that is indeed worse than the disease.