Monday, March 31, 2008

top-two primary... the winnowing

Many newspaper editorial boards across the state have applauded the Supreme Court ruling allowing the top-two primary to go ahead, saying it's a win for voters. But I think in their zeal to punish political party's for the pick-a-party primary ballot, voters have cut off their nose to spite their face.

Before I-872 the primary was a nominating process in which the Republican and Democratic Party's selected their candidates. By law, the major Party's (R's & D's) were required to use the primary to select their candidates, while the minor Party's used conventions to select their candidates.

Even though many voters loved it, the old blanket primary denied the constitutional right of free association to the members of the States Republican and Democratic Party's. The members of the major Party's were not allowed to select their own candidates. The blanket primary law said anyone, friend or foe, was entitled to vote on who the Party's candidates would be.

The Supreme Court ruled the blanket primary unconstitutional and that made Washington's "independent" voters mad. I guess those voters think constitutional rights are good only if they are the ones getting the benefit.

So we've ended up with, I-872, the top-two primary initiative and primaries are no longer about the political party's nominating process.

Now the primary, if it can still be correctly called a primary, is about limiting voters choices. No more picking from the candidates put forward by the various political party's. The general election ballot will have two and only two candidates for each position, all other candidates will be winnowed out.

Candidates will be trying to get voters attention during the summer; Official candidate filing is June 2 thru 6 and the top-two primary ballots go into the mail on August 1. Less than two month to campaign while most voters are busy with summer activities or maybe even away on vacation.

Who will be the real winners in this new winnowing process? Candidates who already have big-money connections; incumbents and candidates backed by special interests. They are the ones who'll be able to afford a summertime media blitz. New, more independent, candidates will be winnowed out before they ever have a chance to introduce themselves to most voters.

As usual, voter turnout will be lower for the primary and come November, many general election voters will be wondering why they have so few choices..

1 comment:

Nicholas said...

What we basically have (and i'm one of those independent voters that supported this initiative) is now a variation of a runoff election system. The primary really can't be called a primary anymore (if one considers a "primary" a nomination process), but Round 1 in a two-round election.

"The general election ballot will have two and only two candidates for each position, all other candidates will be winnowed out."

This is right...but opponents seem to emphasize the decreased choices in the general election and de-emphasizing that the choices are all in Round 1 (the "primary") to begin with. Yes the choices are decreased in Round 2 (the general election) but only after all the candidates that chose to participate do so in the first election and the top-two voted on candidates are decided.

"Less than two month to campaign while most voters are busy with summer activities or maybe even away on vacation."

Candidates can begin campaigning before they actually file. And I don't know about most voters, but most that I know of...their lives aren't dramatically different in the summer as they are in any other season. And any who do vacation I doubt will have any dramatic difference in whether they vote or pay attention to politics or not (unless they vacation all summer?).

"Who will be the real winners in this new winnowing process? Candidates who already have big-money connections; incumbents and candidates backed by special interests. They are the ones who'll be able to afford a summertime media blitz."

This happens anyways unfortunately! It'll take more than a change in the election system ot fix that. Independents and third party candidates already have an uphill battle. This doesn't really change it. Although I do think that they may have a better shot in this system because they can compete for voters that would otherwise vote Dem or Rep in the general election because with the "top-two" there are two spots up for grabs and smaller parties and independents can try to siphon votes away from the big party nominees of similar ideological persuasion as the system less prone (although not immune) to the "spoiler effect".

"As usual, voter turnout will be lower for the primary and come November, many general election voters will be wondering why they have so few choices."

Again, there aren't fewer choices at all. I think critics just don't realize this is a whole new different system from what we're used too and keep focusing on the general election. This is two-part general election. You get a ton of choices (as many as there are participants)...Democratic, Republican, and other party nominees, potentially independents, and then people who are self-described affiliates of a particular party. They go for as many votes as they can get and then we pick the top-two in the second election a few months later. Turnout in the November election will probably be higher just because of tradition and the fact (espeically in a Presidential year) people pay more attention. But there will be plenty of choices available in the August election and it'll be up to voters to take note and participate in that and then (whether their person makes it to the runoff or not) choose to participate in the process again to bring a final victor.

I don't think there's anything wrong with winnowing down the choices at some point...because if you look at many elections between party nominees, many of them can end up lopsided with essentially sacrificial lambs and very weak party candidates being crushed in the general election anyways. In this process, you get to vote for whoever you want, but then the two with the most voter support move on and the candidates who would've likely lost in the nominating primary-general election system anyways are beat early in the top-two runoff.

In Round 1 you get your most choices...in Round 2 (depending on how you voted in Round 1 and how the result turned out) you get to vote for the same person again or have to compromise with someone of a lesser preference. No system is perfect but this is better than the previous system in my opinion and with the type of electorate we have I think will work just fine.