Background

Justification for Open Primaries and other electoral reforms

  • Americans are deeply frustrated with partisan politics, gridlock and lack of cooperation to solve problems.
  • 42 percent of Americans are independents.  Why?  Because they have come to believe that the two major parties no longer can govern effectively.
  • Political parties should be participants, not gatekeepers.  They are members of the political process, not the management, but they act like it and take taxpayer money to run it.
  • Parties used to exist primarily to bring people together.  Now they exist primarily as a conduit for funds, says former U.S.  Senator Bill Bradley. 
  • Parties served an important function when communication was slow-“I don’t know you, but I know the party therefore I will vote for you” does not work and is not needed anymore.
  • Why don’t people vote?  Because they have come to believe that their votes don’t count and they are right.
  • Looking at Congress, only 35 or so of the 435 seats are competitive seats because for decades incumbents decide what their districts look like. As a range of voices have left the primary voter ranks, those diverse voices have been distilled down to polarized views less apt to engage in dialogue with others. These party regulars are generally the far right and the far left and elect the candidates in the primaries who go to the general in non-competitive districts and walk through the general with a free ride.  Less involved voters who vote in generals see this, are disgusted and over the last 20 years vote less and less.  The end result is that most officials are elected by less than 4 percent of the eligible voters because the general election does not matter most of the time and the candidates in the primary tend to be at the extreme of the political spectrum.
  • Politicians currently choose their voters before voters get to choose their representatives.  We need nonpartisan districting commissions so that districts represent logically connected communities and don’t exist simply to create safe seats where the incumbent is re-elected 97% of the time.
  • Special interest politics reinforces this by funding only those ideologues that agree with the far right and the far left reinforcing that candidates who are moderate and want to build coalitions can’t move through the primary because they can’t raise money.  A new verb now exists called getting “primaried” meaning if the candidate did not the tow the party line (or the union line, or the chamber line) s/he will face major competition in the primary (s/he got primaried).
  • For voting to mean something there has to be real competition, which means all voters must be allowed to vote in all elections.  Increasing voter turnout means that a full range of beliefs would be communicated at the ballot box, not just the party regulars supporting mostly the far right and the far left.
  • But it is a Democratic and Republican primary-why shouldn’t the parties decide who can vote in their primaries?  Because our tax dollars pay for primary elections and it is illegal (or should be once the courts catch up based on the New Mexico anti-donation clause) for public dollars to go to private associations.  We don’t tolerate it in any situation except the most important activity we do in our country-when we vote.
  • If the public is going to pay for elections, then everyone must be allowed to participate or the government is violating one of the most sacred tenants of our country-one person, one vote.

 

Summary:

  • It is about the rights of voters and quite literally saving our democracy by addressing the root problem of our polarized, dysfunctional political system.
  • This is not about promoting independent voters or candidates; it is about creating a system that represents everyone.
  • This is not anti-party or anti-incumbent, rather it is about creating a system that forces voters, candidates and elected officials to talk with each other, to have a dialogue, so that our complex problems can be solved.
  • We all know the system is broken and together we can fix it.
  • California passed “top two” voting in 2010.  After one full election cycle, observers of politics in Sacramento say that there is more coalition building, listening across ideological lines and problem solving going on than ever before.  It is transforming the politics of gridlock and we need it in NM and in Washington

OP-ED on recent closed primary court ruling

March 19, 2015

As a former Democratic New Mexico State Representative and former co-chair of a New Mexico state Democratic Convention (2000), I want to congratulate independent voter David Crum and his attorney on taking the time to challenge New Mexico’s closed primary system.

I understand the old, tired argument:  but it is a Democratic and Republican primary-why shouldn’t the parties decide who can vote in their primaries?

The answer is:  Because our tax dollars pay for primary elections and it is illegal (or should be once the courts catch up based on the New Mexico anti-donation clause) for public dollars to go to private associations.  We don’t tolerate it in any situation except the most important activity we do in our country-when we vote.

Since primary elections are paid for by the public through government funds, then everyone must be allowed to participate or the government is violating the anti-donation clause of our state constitution by paying for a private association to make a private decision.  If the parties want to exclude non-party members, then they should pay for their primary election.

Would we allow a Party caucus to decide how and when to fund the police?  The jails?  The Forest Service?  Why do allow a private party function to decide who can vote?  Yes, the parties can decide who they want to represent them and then send that person into a first round vote (at the moment called a primary).  However, they have no right to control that first round vote.

The ideal primary system would be an open primary where the top two vote getters from any party or non-party go to the general election so that all voters can participate in the first and second round.

One of the most sacred tenants of our country is one person, one vote.  By excluding independents, minor parties or even members of the opposition party from voting in a party’s primary, this sacred tenant is violated.  As always, New Mexico is behind the times and our polarized and rancorous politics speaks to the dysfunction.

Bob Perls

Former New Mexico State Representative

Corrales, NM

505-259-2377

 

 


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