I have been unstinting in my criticism of “open primaries”. I voted against a Portland School District candidate because he had been endorsed by Phil Kiesling, who keeps trying to flog this anti-democratic idea in Portland. I have argued against “open primaries” (which can take various forms but all have the same outcomes) for two reasons: political parties should be free to select their nominees for public office without intrusion from non-members, and small “third” parties will be obliterated.
Sad to say, California is proving my point on the latter.
Here are the results of the special primary that was held Tuesday to replace retired Rep Jane Harman in Southern California’s CD 36:
|Daniel H Adler||D||285||0.54|
|Maria E Montano||PF||252||0.47|
|Michael T Chamness||NP||93||0.17|
Total votes cast: 42,968
Registered voters: 345,232
NP: No party preference
PF: Peace & Freedom
The first thing to note is that having an open primary did nothing to improve turnout. 12.45% is embarrassing. Granted, everyone hates Congress and we persist in holding elections on Tuesdays — and California makes most voters have to show up at a polling place, which we know suppresses turnout greatly — but fewer than 1-in-8 voters even bothered. Hahn is the winner of this vote — and she received votes from fewer than 4% of the registered voters.
Friends and neighbors, that is not democracy. That’s surrender.
The top six finishers received 40,242 of the 42,968 ballots cast. That’s 94% of the total votes cast. The top six, of course, are all Democrats and Republicans. Add in the other major party candidates, and you have 97% of the vote going to Ds & Rs.
Or 3% to small party candidates. Of course, it’s entirely possible that only 3% of the voters in California CD 36 would vote for a small “third” party candidate. But that’s pretty unlikely. According to the CA Secretary of State’s office, only 73% of voters in CD 36 are registered with the two major parties. Registration with minor parties is tiny (0.63% for Libertarians; 0.68% for the Greens) but “No Party Preference” is 22.27%. The indies voted for Ds and Rs; they had little other choice.
And while registration for third parties is low, turnout among those voters is higher than for the other parties. 18% of the Peace and Freedom Party and 33% of Libertarians voted. That indicates a stronger desire among their supporters to participate in the democratic process, but guess what?
You’re out. One and done. Thanks for playing, and have a safe drive home.
Yup, the third parties, along with the runner-up Ds and Rs, and the nondescript “NPs”, are toast. Tossed to the side. This is what “open” and “top-two” primaries get you: thrown to the side of the road. In Oregon, the small parties don’t even participate in May primary (it’s a formality). Libertarians, Greens, Independents, Progressives, Constitutionalists — they get to remain part of the process until Election Day. They’ll get the occasional media coverage, sometimes be part of debates, have the chance to talk to Jeff Mapes now and then. They have no hope in hell of winning a seat in the Legislature or any other major race, but they remain a part of the process all the way through to November.
Steve Collett, CD 36 Libertarian? Hit the road, Jack.
Maria Montano, CD 36 Peace and Freedom? Buh-bye.
Roozee, Pilot, Chamness: Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.
This is not democracy. This is power-grabbing. The most aggressive Democrat came in first, a rich Republican bought his way to second place, and the Secretary of State came in third. Granted, under the old system, that outcome would unlikely be changed, but this one little difference would be true:
The small parties would not be roadkill.
Also, you would not have a final runoff with two Dems, and that’s a strong possibility here. After the late votes have been counted, Bowen could finish second. But instead of losing the Democratic nomination, as was true before Prop 14 (which instituted this system), she’d simply be the other participant in the runoff.
And the Republicans would be roadkill as well.
Democracy is not served by limiting participation. I don’t care if a party has any chance of winning an election; I don’t care if everything they stand for is offensive to me (Constitution Party; Progressive (so-called) Party; GOP). I don’t care if it costs more. We say over and over that American liberty and democracy is something worth giving our lives for. A few bucks is a far smaller price. But California, and our neighbors to the north, have decided to toss aside democracy and openness for a system that marginalizes small parties even more.
Yes, those committed to the Libertarians and PF voted in higher numbers than did others, but the Ds and Rs obliterated them. What happens next spring? With results like this, and a primary system like this, why would anyone waste a vote on them? Since the primary now has the hard core impact of culling the field down to two, voters have no incentive, other than fanaticism or stubbornness, to vote for anyone other than the Democrat or Republican. And as committed as I am to the Democratic Party, I think that’s horrible. Imagine if the Timbers pre-season involved nothing but high school teams. Would they have outplayed the Sounders last weekend? Or would they have been smushed?
Democracy is an all-comers event. We need everyone to vote, and we need all parties to participate. The general election needs to be a big, messy brawl. Let the parties find a single nominee for the various offices, and then let all nominees take their arguments to the voters. You don’t like “politics”? Forcing all but two candidates out of the process early doesn’t fix that; it just lets the big dogs fight it out over money, tv, and all the fun electioneering more and more Americans hate. We fix these problems with more, not less, participation.
CD 36 will have either 2 Dems in the runoff, or a Dem and wealthy Republican. How is this an improvement, California? How do marginalized voters have more say now, Phil Kiesling?
Where is the growth in democracy?
By T.A. Barnhart
May 19, 2011
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