The Unified Primary: A New Way to Conduct Nonpartisan Elections

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Entrepreneur Mark Frohnmayer is spearheading an initiative in Oregon to completely reform the electoral system in the state. The system combines a nonpartisan top-two primary system — similar to the elections in California — with approval voting. Frohnmayer calls this new nonpartisan election, “The Unified Primary.”

It is important to make a distinction between “open” and “nonpartisan” systems as the words are often interchanged, but they don’t mean the same thing. An “open” system merely means that all voters can participate, but it does not mean that the system is nonpartisan.

While nonaffiliated and third party voters are allowed to participate in an open partisan primary, their options are limited as they have to choose between two ballots — Democratic or Republican. A nonpartisan system, however, uses elections where all voters and candidates, regardless of political affiliation, participate on a single ballot.

 

Learn More About Open and Nonpartisan Primaries

 

Oregon currently uses closed primaries in which only members of the major political parties can participate in the primary elections. Frohnmayer’s initiative, called the “Fair and Unified Elections Act of 2014,” would completely overhaul elections in the state “to create a uniform election system for partisan offices in which each elector has, at the primary election, an equal voice on each candidate’s ability to advance to the general election.”

The proposal would create an electoral system similar to the top-two system approved by California voters in 2010. In California, Proposition 14 created primary elections in which the entire electorate is given equal access to a single ballot on which all candidates running for the same office are listed. The top two vote getters then move on to the general election.

A major argument in favor of the top-two system is that voters who do not register with the major political parties should not be marginalized by a system that denies them meaningful participation in the voting process.

“I think in America we ought not to have, as an obligation, the requirement to join a party in order to have special access to the ballot,” Steve Peace, author of California’s Top-Two Initiative, argued in 2010.

Proponents of nonpartisan election reform argue that closed primaries, and even partisan open primaries, discriminate against voters and candidates who choose not to affiliate with either the Democratic Party or the GOP.

If passed, Oregon voters will not only have equal access to a single ballot, they will be able to vote for as many candidates as they want. It is a process called “approval voting.”

Approval voting, unlike the current voting system, allows voters to select one or more candidates running in the same election. In a primary election, this essentially guarantees that the two candidates who move on to the general election truly have the most support among the electorate and eliminates the concept of the “spoiler candidate.”

Go to the Unified Primary Website

<— Check out this complete explanation of how approval voting works from the people at The Center for Election Science.

From the initiative:

Specifically, each voter may cast a vote in favor of any and all candidates the voter approves to advance, and in so doing may approve of more than one candidate for a single office. The two candidates for each office receiving the most votes from all voters will advance to the general election, in which the winner will be the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes cast at the general election.

“Compared to other primary systems, the ‘Unified Primary’ is less restrictive for voters because it does not limit them to selecting only one candidate in a field of many,” Frohnmayer said, “and it does not limit them to selecting only from only one party’s candidates.”

Like in most cases where nonpartisan election reform is proposed, he knows there is a good chance of opposition from major party leaders.

“Mainstream political parties may see this as a disadvantage because it does not encourage party loyalty, especially among moderate voters who do not identify strongly with either party.”

However, with the addition of approval voting, major parties do not have to be concerned with vote splitting among more moderate or independent-minded members — a major concern among opponents of the top-two primary system.

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  1. shankbrianb @Mark Frohnmayer   Mark, Could you tell me more about that endorsement privilege or where I can read more about it? On another post at another site you write that "Political parties, under the Unified Primary, will enjoy the special privilege of endorsement on the ballot, through processes they create and fund." What control does each party have to limit or allow the name of their party to be used by the candidates on the ballot, and how does this control of naming or trademark right, or lack thereof, compare to that of California's and Washington's top two systems? I am confused about the use of the terms "party affiliation" and "party preference," for example. I definitely like the idea of political parties behaving more like endorsement organizations and less like ballot access political machines. I have been arguing for a long time that replacing plurality voting with approval voting would go a long way toward doing that. I consider plurality voting to be very detrimental to elections and to freedom of citizens, and I very badly want to see it replaced with approval voting somewhere in the US. For this reason, I really hope The Unified Primary system is adopted in Oregon, even though I have some reservations about it.
  2. shankbrianb @Mark FrohnmayerWow! That is surprising. I should have considered vote-splitting as a cause for that, but I guess it just seemed so unlikely to me that vote-splitting would be so severe that two Republicans would advance in a majority Democratic district. This particular example makes a compelling argument for why elections in the US need to use approval voting, or at the very least, get rid of plurality.
  3. Greg Bard I am a little reluctant to get into examples, because they don't really address the principle behind the issue. You don't judge an elective system by particular cases. They always point out that David Duke was elected in Louisiana using a top-two system -- but that isn't the fault of the system, it's the fault of the ignorant voters in Louisiana! You get the government you deserve in a democracy, and you need to face up to that. If you want to get into examples, you need to look at an examples of close elections. If the system doesn't hold up in a close election, then it doesn't hold up at all. Any system will work if the example is a blowout landslide, and no one will even know the difference if that system is screwed up. So keeping this in mind, I have to go back to the principle that the majority rules, and the minority has the right to become the majority using its free speech. that means that a 50%+1 majority is morally required (**ahem** that's not the same as 51%). Do you see the "+1" there? That's a person, and that person is referred to (in social choice theory) as the "pivotal" voter. It could be you or me. If you don't demand that your elective system require that it respect your individual vote, and that every vote counts, then I would call that a form of self-hatred, and certainly a case of putting corporatism over the individual. The systems you support invariably will put the will of some group of voters over the will of the "pivotal" voter which is an individual.
  4. Brian Shank - Greg, I was hoping you would give an example of a hypothetical election or group of candidates in which the use of approval in the first round, followed by a run-off, lapses into unsoundness, but a system that uses vote-for-only-one in the first round would be sound or less unsound I suppose. Note, I am assuming that this hypothetical election has three or more choices for the voters in the first round, perhaps 5 or 6 candidates? Also, I am assuming that a run-off is used for each of the two voting systems. I have read that Arrow's Theorem didn't apply to cardinal systems, only to ordinal ones. What do you know or think about this assertion or possibility?
  5. Mark Frohnmayer And by Brad I mean Greg. Brain hasn't turned on yet today.
  6. Mark Frohnmayer Brad, that makes sense - I thought you were applying Arrow's Theorem to the unified primary's approval voting first stage, not the top two second stage. I think if you concede that approval voting is at least as supportable a mechanism for selecting the top two as plurality voting, we'll all be on the same page. To me it's easiest to understand as shifting from a referendum on each office to a referendum on each candidate. Every voter gets an equal voice on each candidate, no matter how many candidates are in the race and no matter how many share similar views. Under plurality voting, your voice is inversely proportional to the number of candidates you support, because similar candidates split votes.
  7. Greg Bard I have provided the point that Arrow's Theorem states necessarily that an elective system cannot offer three or more choices without lapsing into unsoundness. This is why the run-off with only two choices is necessary (and in fact preferable). This point was also proven by logician Emil Post who proved the unsoundness of logical systems which have three or more truth-values (those logical systems are logically isomorphic to the elective systems which we are talking about.)
  8. Mark Frohnmayer Greg, I'm curious to see your mathematical analysis of the proposed voting system (technically approval voting with a top two) versus the CA system (technically plurality voting with a top two). The two analyses I've found: http://scorevoting.net/StratHonMix.html and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bs.3830210102/abstract suggest that from the mathematical/decision science measures of bayesian regret, likelihood of a Condorcet outcome and voting system efficiency, that Approval2Runoff solidly outperforms Plurality2Runoff on every measure. I would be interested to see any credible analysis that suggests the opposite is true. I did look up Arrow's Theorem: Arrow himself says Arrow's theorem does not apply to cardinal utility voting systems of which approval voting is one. You can see the interview transcript here: http://www.electology.org/interview-with-dr-kenneth-arrow . Finally your comment about "The system doesn't owe you perfect choices" is not persuasive. As an innovative democracy, we the people should adopt an approach of continuous improvement to our election methods so that we have better choices. I would tend to agree that the only rational voting strategy under today's system is to pick the "lesser of evils," but I'd much rather be able to choose the awesomer of awesomes.
  9. Brian Shank Greg, Perhaps you could provide some insights? Could you please provide some examples, arguments or evidence? Could you explain to some extent why the top-two system proposed by Fohnmayer does a worse job of reflecting the will of the voters than the version used in CA, LA or WA? Specifically how or why does the system with approval go wrong? Could you give some hypothetical examples? Could you point to any arguments or studies that suggest this?
  10. Greg Bard Listen Brian, like I said earlier, I have studied elective systems formally from a mathematical perspective (I have a degree in logic), and from a political perspective (I was a campaign manager, an elected official, and I authored election policies, yes, plural **policies**). everyone thinks they are an expert in certain areas like ethics, religion, and politics even without any formal training at all. The systems like the one you support are **not mathematically valid.** Please do look up Arrow's Theorem. I know you believe that you have a good counter example here with this "most disliked and second most disliked" example that you have given here. But I am sorry, but your analysis is **not sound**. Every club, committee and informal vote that you have ever seen uses simple majoritarian voting with two rounds, just as provided in Roberts Rules of Order. No one ever cries about the issues you bring up in those cases. That's because **there is no crying about it**. If two candidates go on to be the top two out of a large field and turn out to each have only a small amount of support, then that means (in the United States of America) that they used their free speech, and were able to garner the support which they **earned**. You need to stop looking for gimmicks to help certain kinds of candidates, and go out and use your free speech to have a campaign, to earn the people's support. Stop trying to win elections from third place. If you are support a third party candidate, and they lose... **THEY DESERVED TO LOSE** under our democratic system. The system doesn't owe you perfect choices. Go out and support the "lesser of two evils" because that is the mature and responsible thing to do rather than not vote. You should be **extremely** glad that California has miraculously adopted the **only** mathematically valid electoral system.
161 comments
Greg Bard
Greg Bard

I am a little reluctant to get into examples, because they don't really address the principle behind the issue. You don't judge an elective system by particular cases. They always point out that David Duke was elected in Louisiana using a top-two system -- but that isn't the fault of the system, it's the fault of the ignorant voters in Louisiana! You get the government you deserve in a democracy, and you need to face up to that. If you want to get into examples, you need to look at an examples of close elections. If the system doesn't hold up in a close election, then it doesn't hold up at all. Any system will work if the example is a blowout landslide, and no one will even know the difference if that system is screwed up. So keeping this in mind, I have to go back to the principle that the majority rules, and the minority has the right to become the majority using its free speech. that means that a 50%+1 majority is morally required (**ahem** that's not the same as 51%). Do you see the "+1" there? That's a person, and that person is referred to (in social choice theory) as the "pivotal" voter. It could be you or me. If you don't demand that your elective system require that it respect your individual vote, and that every vote counts, then I would call that a form of self-hatred, and certainly a case of putting corporatism over the individual. The systems you support invariably will put the will of some group of voters over the will of the "pivotal" voter which is an individual.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

- Greg, I was hoping you would give an example of a hypothetical election or group of candidates in which the use of approval in the first round, followed by a run-off, lapses into unsoundness, but a system that uses vote-for-only-one in the first round would be sound or less unsound I suppose. Note, I am assuming that this hypothetical election has three or more choices for the voters in the first round, perhaps 5 or 6 candidates? Also, I am assuming that a run-off is used for each of the two voting systems. I have read that Arrow's Theorem didn't apply to cardinal systems, only to ordinal ones. What do you know or think about this assertion or possibility?

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

Brad, that makes sense - I thought you were applying Arrow's Theorem to the unified primary's approval voting first stage, not the top two second stage. I think if you concede that approval voting is at least as supportable a mechanism for selecting the top two as plurality voting, we'll all be on the same page. To me it's easiest to understand as shifting from a referendum on each office to a referendum on each candidate. Every voter gets an equal voice on each candidate, no matter how many candidates are in the race and no matter how many share similar views. Under plurality voting, your voice is inversely proportional to the number of candidates you support, because similar candidates split votes.

Greg Bard
Greg Bard

I have provided the point that Arrow's Theorem states necessarily that an elective system cannot offer three or more choices without lapsing into unsoundness. This is why the run-off with only two choices is necessary (and in fact preferable). This point was also proven by logician Emil Post who proved the unsoundness of logical systems which have three or more truth-values (those logical systems are logically isomorphic to the elective systems which we are talking about.)

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

Greg, I'm curious to see your mathematical analysis of the proposed voting system (technically approval voting with a top two) versus the CA system (technically plurality voting with a top two). The two analyses I've found: http://scorevoting.net/StratHonMix.html and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bs.3830210102/abstract suggest that from the mathematical/decision science measures of bayesian regret, likelihood of a Condorcet outcome and voting system efficiency, that Approval2Runoff solidly outperforms Plurality2Runoff on every measure. I would be interested to see any credible analysis that suggests the opposite is true.


I did look up Arrow's Theorem: Arrow himself says Arrow's theorem does not apply to cardinal utility voting systems of which approval voting is one. You can see the interview transcript here: http://www.electology.org/interview-with-dr-kenneth-arrow .


Finally your comment about "The system doesn't owe you perfect choices" is not persuasive. As an innovative democracy, we the people should adopt an approach of continuous improvement to our election methods so that we have better choices. I would tend to agree that the only rational voting strategy under today's system is to pick the "lesser of evils," but I'd much rather be able to choose the awesomer of awesomes.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

Greg, Perhaps you could provide some insights? Could you please provide some examples, arguments or evidence? Could you explain to some extent why the top-two system proposed by Fohnmayer does a worse job of reflecting the will of the voters than the version used in CA, LA or WA? Specifically how or why does the system with approval go wrong? Could you give some hypothetical examples? Could you point to any arguments or studies that suggest this?

Greg Bard
Greg Bard

Listen Brian, like I said earlier, I have studied elective systems formally from a mathematical perspective (I have a degree in logic), and from a political perspective (I was a campaign manager, an elected official, and I authored election policies, yes, plural **policies**). everyone thinks they are an expert in certain areas like ethics, religion, and politics even without any formal training at all. The systems like the one you support are **not mathematically valid.** Please do look up Arrow's Theorem. I know you believe that you have a good counter example here with this "most disliked and second most disliked" example that you have given here. But I am sorry, but your analysis is **not sound**. Every club, committee and informal vote that you have ever seen uses simple majoritarian voting with two rounds, just as provided in Roberts Rules of Order. No one ever cries about the issues you bring up in those cases. That's because **there is no crying about it**. If two candidates go on to be the top two out of a large field and turn out to each have only a small amount of support, then that means (in the United States of America) that they used their free speech, and were able to garner the support which they **earned**. You need to stop looking for gimmicks to help certain kinds of candidates, and go out and use your free speech to have a campaign, to earn the people's support. Stop trying to win elections from third place. If you are support a third party candidate, and they lose... **THEY DESERVED TO LOSE** under our democratic system. The system doesn't owe you perfect choices. Go out and support the "lesser of two evils" because that is the mature and responsible thing to do rather than not vote. You should be **extremely** glad that California has miraculously adopted the **only** mathematically valid electoral system.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

- Greg, You have correctly stated in an earlier post what most of us assume about voting systems: "What an elective system needs to do first and foremost is reflect the will of the voters." A top-two system with the "vote-for-only-one" rule in the first round, like in CA and WA, may fail to reflect the will of the voters. If each voter is forced to pick only one candidate in the first round election (which is known as plurality voting rule), you could get the will of the LEAST number of people represented. In other words, the most disliked and the second-most disliked candidates may be the top two finishers, and these two will go to the run-off. This is a major flaw of the top-two system, but is much, much less likely to happen if approval voting is used in the first round.

Greg Bard
Greg Bard

??? The voters voted that way, and that's undemocratic???? Are you even listening to yourself? I do not support plurality voting. I support simple majoritarian voting, which is what California has, and what approval voting is not. 50%+1 or nothing.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

- Jack, I completely agree! I am trying to get members of third parties to understand this concept so they will collaborate on a national and state level to get rid of plurality. If WA and CA wanted to get rid of polarization/partisanship, they needed to get rid of the most important thing that causes it - plurality voting! Their new voting system called “top-two” fails to include this crucial change, so they are still having the polarization and partisanship problem. As for Oregon, I believe that almost all of the benefits approval voting would bring to third parties and independents will be lost if that open blanket approval election is held too early in the year. This first-round election should be held in November. Richard Winger, the biggest champion of third parties and independents in the US, understands this very counterproductive and harmful aspect of top-two, but few people seem to be listening to his advice.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

Greg, Please notice the point I made about the two Republicans running in the run-off election in a district in which a large majority of voters were Democrats. That is about as undemocratic as you can get. If you want real democracy, please support moving the open blanket election to a much later time in the year so these types of travesties are avoided. Few people are paying attention and participating in June; consequently, these elections are not very democratic. If you want real democracy, why would you advocate use of plurality voting over approval? Plurality is the least democratic voting method there is, next to random selection.

Greg Bard
Greg Bard

There is no crying about a low turn out for the run-off. They have the option and choose not to make a choice and that is tacit approval. If one or the other is, in fact, the "lesser of two evils" then grow up and make that choice. The system don't owe you a perfect choice. You have all the choice you are entitled to during the wide open primary. Furthermore, you only really know what your choice is after the primary boils down to the top two. At that point the debate is reframed, and we can see what exactly it is that is the fundamental issues on which the public considers important. If it happens that two members of the same party are the top two, then there is no crying about that either, because **that's what the voters wanted.** Welcome to real democracy.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

Greg, For the open blanket election, how can you know if you obtained a majority of support when each voter is allowed to only check off one candidate on a ballot with more than two? In the run-off, you may have 30% of the voters just stay home or leave that part of the ballot blank because they are so disgusted with both candidates in the run-off. This is what actually happened in a race in a particular district in CA that had two Republicans in a run-off for a district where registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans. There is no real majority winner in such cases. If you really want a true majority, you must force all voters practically at gunpoint to go to the polls and vote, and even then, you need to allow them to vote "none of these candidates" as an option to truly know if you have a majority winner. See the Wikipedia page on majority criterion: "In an election with three or more serious contenders, there is often no candidate ranked first by such a majority. Therefore, in elections with more than two major parties, the majority criterion is frequently irrelevant."

James Nobles
James Nobles

Anything that blocks more than two candidates from participating in the general election is BAD. How hard is that to understand? I don't care what the voting method is. The same money factors at play in the general election will now be applied to the primary, meaning that the same big money, corporate backed candidates will still win. Except now, once they've made it past this "primary" they no longer have to worry about real competition when it actually counts. Do you understand why Frohnmayer is even doing this? Because his father lost in a three-way race. He lost because another candidate got more votes. But in the entitled world of Democrat and Republican politics, the whining is that a "third party" candidate cost him the election by siphoning off votes that should have gone to his dad. Boo hoo. Frohnmayer Sr. lost because of a third-party/independent candidate and now he's trying to take revenge. But that is how actual democracy works. Idiots. This is as bad as Democrats blaming Nader for Gore losing. Gore lost because of a poorly thought campaign strategy and election fraud in FL. Same thing here. The entitled class lost, so lets change the rules so we can win. Period.

James Nobles
James Nobles

I understand. Do you understand how condescending your question is? I guess nobody gets to disagree with you in your new vision of democracy. Anything that blocks more than two candidates from participating in the general election is BAD. How hard is that to understand? I don't care what the voting method is. The same money factors at play in the general election will now be applied to the primary, meaning that the same big money, corporate backed candidates will still win. Except now, once they've made it past this "primary" they no longer have to worry about real competition when it actually counts. Do you understand why Frohnmayer is even doing this? Because his father lost in a three-way race. He lost because another candidate got more votes. But in the entitled world of Democrat and Republican politics, the whining is that a "third party" candidate cost him the election by siphoning off votes that should have gone to his dad. Boo hoo. Frohnmayer Sr. lost because of a third-party/independent candidate and now he's trying to take revenge. But that is how actual democracy works. Idiots. This is as bad as Democrats blaming Nader for Gore losing. Gore lost because of a poorly thought campaign strategy and election fraud in FL. Same thing here. The entitled class lost, so lets change the rules so we can win. Period.

Tamara Crail-Walters
Tamara Crail-Walters

And, how does that change anything? Do you really believe that those who support one (of many candidates) will 'approve' of more than one? A few will but I will predict that it won't change a thing.

Jack Waugh
Jack Waugh

The private orgs you refer to have easier access to the ballot, unearned.

Jack Waugh
Jack Waugh

Brian Shank, the problem is they have easier ballot access than their opponents.

Jack Waugh
Jack Waugh

What harms third parties and independents more than anything else can is Plurality Voting, Brian Shank.

Jack Waugh
Jack Waugh

Do you understand that what Frohnmayer proposes is that all could participate in the first stage (so-called "primary") and that it would run by Approval Voting? It would be hard to find a method more _inclusive_ to third parties and independents than Approval.

Jack Waugh
Jack Waugh

I suppose you find that bombing people overseas is moral.

Jack Waugh
Jack Waugh

The proposal has nothing to do with what you said.

Jack Waugh
Jack Waugh

You don't seem to understand. The proposal is for an _approval_ first stage. The top-two second stage will have no effect, neither good nor bad.

Greg Bard
Greg Bard

I'm sorry, but your analysis is not sound. No candidate should be allowed to take any individual office (i.e. mayor, governor, president) without a 50%+1 majority, period. For the offices which comprise a committee, (i.e. council members, state legislators, congresspersons) there may be some room for other methods, but simply electing the top vote-getters from the field suffices to accomplish the goal of represenativeness.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

Greg, Plurality voting is the WORST voting method at reflecting the will of the voters, and approval is one of the best voting methods for doing this. In fact, only random selection performs worse than plurality, and voting systems mathematicians and political scientists at a conference on the issue at the London School of Economics unanimously ranked plurality dead last compared to other systems used: (http://archive.is/QSlm) A top-two system with approval voting is superior to that same top-two system with plurality, but neither one is very helpful if the open blanket election is held much earlier than October when no one is paying attention or participating.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

Steve Stratton, an open blanket "primary" and top-two run-off voting system does just what you suggested, which is "to forget primaries and just put everyone on the General Election ballot!!" The old version of nominating primaries is no longer supported and held by any state that uses a top-two system. Please think about what an open blanket "primary" really is. It indeed is a general election. The fact that it is held earlier in the year than November doesn't make that any less true. Do not be fooled by the bad habit of everyone calling the first round election a primary. It should never be called a primary, and the run-off in November is just that, a run-off! The run-off election in November in CA and WA should NEVER be referred to as a general election. Also, since participation and attention by a majority of voters is so lacking in months prior to October of an election year, holding that open blanket election early in the year is very harmful. I wish people would listen to what Richard Winger has to say about this harmful aspect of the top-two system. Among other things, it really harms third parties and independents.

Greg Bard
Greg Bard

@Brian The Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem proves that it is impossible to construct a voting system without strategic voting. It is something that is not possible to eliminate, nor is it preferable to try. What an elective system needs to do first and foremost is reflect the will of the voters. So on these bases I have to reject your analysis. I have studied the issue formally from a mathematical, and a political perspective, as I have a degree in logic, and I was a campaign manager. So I can assure you that the system in California is the only morally acceptable system and we are lucky they instituted it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibbard%E2%80%93Satterthwaite_theorem

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

The problem with closed nominating primaries for political parties is that they are publicly funded, and there are only two of 'em, so perhaps they should be open? The open blanket "primary" of the top-two system really is not a primary at all. In essence, it is a general election which, in CA and WA, is very stupidly held when nominating primaries used to be held. This is very harmful to third parties and independents, and does nothing to alleviate the polarization problem that nominating primaries contribute to. Note that one of the main selling points of top-two was that it should reduce political polarization.

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

Political parties are private organizations, and in my opinion should be closed. The problem with that is that they are publicly funded, and there are only two of 'em, so I relent and agree that they be open. Ugh!

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

Greg Bard, please consider why nominating party primaries have been necessary in the past. If we didn't force each voter to pick only one candidate on the ballot (plurality voting rule) in general elections, we wouldn't need to hold nominating primaries. Those primaries help reduce the vote-splitting problem. The top two system gets rid of the nominating primaries, but does nothing to alleviate the problem they were designed to solve which is vote-splitting. Every top two system should use approval voting. If we held the open blanket "primary" election in November, but had no run-off, that would just be a plain old general election. In essence, the first round open blanket election is indeed a general election, even if it is not held in November. Top two systems have in essence replaced the nominating primaries with a run-off as a means to mitigate the vote-splitting problem. The old system is only slightly better than top two in my opinion, but Frohnmayer's version is SOOOO much better because it eliminates vote-splitting. Now if Frohnmayer would advocate holding that open blanket election on election day in November, it would be the best state-wide voting system in the United States!

RichardWinger
RichardWinger

Clay, how do you know it would be politically difficult to persuade the electorate to vote for approval voting in the general election until you try?

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

And by Brad I mean Greg. Brain hasn't turned on yet today.

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

Greg, the CA system is plurality voting in the primary, which means that in a wide enough field, both candidates can advance with less than majority support between them. Approval voting in the first stage is much more likely to produce a majoritarian (i.e. condorcet) outcome than plurality voting in the first stage.

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

Brian, I'm not sure I agree on the timing piece. Pushing the timeline for the primary election to November may create the same scenario we have now, where media and funders focus on two major party presumed "frontrunners," to the exclusion of the rest of the field. Having an earlier primary should allow an independent that advances a reasonable time frame to engage support and debate his or her opponent in person and media prior to the general election. Or it may be disadvantageous to the independent to have that gap, but it's hard to know for sure.


This proposal very deliberately didn't mess with the current Oregon primary date, as that has implications for local office races as well as the presidential race. We can certainly fine-tune once we've had experience with it through several cycles.

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

Greg, as long as you are allowed to select all the candidates you approve in the primary, I would tend to agree. The criticism that you'd have two candidates in the general election is a common refrain, but misleading.  In districts where one party dominates, the election is effectively over in the primary today. In such districts the unified primary (like the open primary) will allow all voters a selection between the two.

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

James, I don't think your analysis here is correct. First, the statement about the "why" is way under inclusive.  Yes, during formative years (I was 16 at the time) I endured an election that was deliberately spoiled by a special interest group attempting to shift Oregon's political dynamic. Having lived through that election from the point of view of the candidate I came to view multi-candidate plurality voting as obviously and inherently unfair to candidates and to voters. Ditto for the 2000 presidential. And then "primary"'ing became a verb.

Our election system is bad - not just because it shuts out 30% of the electorate from having a meaningful voice in the selection of candidates, not just because it forces all the other voters into polar camps, not just because it fails basic mathematical analysis, but at the end of the day because it produces bad governance outcomes that are obvious and well established.

Approval voting in a unified primary where two candidates advance very well could significantly reduce the impact of pre-primary campaign finance, as voters will be able to honestly support all candidates they approve, rather than just one. With just one choice, name recognition and electability become significant factors in vote selection. And your comment about "real competition" is just farcical. Third party and independent candidates offer ZERO real competition today because of the mechanics of plurality voting. They can't raise money, they don't get media, they aren't invited to the debates and people don't vote for them because they are, by basic math, spoilers. If you are going to critique the unified primary system, please do so in the context of the real world, against the backdrop of the election system Oregon has in place today.

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

Brian, there are several definitions of "primary election" out there, but I think it's a safe understanding in lay usage that (as Wikipedia defines it), "a primary election is an election that narrows the field of candidates before an election for office."


The process of narrowing the field can be done via a party-nominated primary (open, semi-open, closed, etc.) or via a voter-nominated primary (jungle/non-partisan blanket, unified, etc.).


Proposing that "Primary election" as a term is the specific province of party nominations is contrary to common usage and understanding.


Further, lumping all systems that advance two candidates together does nobody any service.  The dynamics of voting method used to select those top two are of fundamental importance.  A plurality voting top two advance is indeed unfavorable to third parties and independents BECAUSE of the dynamics of plurality voting.


Finally, the comments regarding voter turnout in the primary are misapplied.  First, because the current partisan primary system shuts out about 1/3 of the voters and gives all voters less choice.  Now you might say, "Well California had poor turnout in their 2012 primary." 75% of California independents polled after the primary didn't know they could participate.  Since Oregon does vote-by-mail, this will be a substantially lessened problem, and indeed Oregon voter turnout in the primary is high relative to the rest of the country.  With all voters getting significantly more choice, I would see this increasing substantially, with the goal of parity with the general election.

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

@Greg Bard , that's a pretty bold statement regarding the "morality" of a voting system.  I would argue that the Unified Primary fixes some of the pretty major bugs that have been attributed to the California system (notably the shutout of third parties).

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

@Brian Shank I think what you're getting at is, what is the proper function of a private political party organization in the context of a publicly-funded election process. The Unified Primary initiative does not create non-partisan elections; rather it creates voter-nominated partisan elections and suggests that the proper function of a political party is one of political association and endorsement. The parties in this system still enjoy a very special privilege, which is (with candidate approval) to have their endorsements appear on the ballot next to the candidate. And as you state above and below, while the CA and WA systems allow candidates to campaign to the whole electorate through the whole process, plurality voting still computes "largest faction" not overall support, hence the adoption of approval voting in the Unified Primary.

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

One nice feature of the Unified Primary is that it will free political parties to innovate on their endorsement processes, rather than encoding those processes in statute.

clayshentrup
clayshentrup

@RichardWinger Years of experience promoting Approval Voting to activists and elected officials says it would be challenging. Frohnmayer's proposal benefits from the popularity of the open top-two primary.


We could test the theory by proposing a plain Approval Voting general election first, but that would take resources too.


My view is that either proposal would be a huge improvement to the democratic-ness of election outcomes, and would help the spread of Approval Voting.

shankbrianb
shankbrianb

@Mark Frohnmayer

Wow! That is surprising. I should have considered vote-splitting as a cause for that, but I guess it just seemed so unlikely to me that vote-splitting would be so severe that two Republicans would advance in a majority Democratic district. This particular example makes a compelling argument for why elections in the US need to use approval voting, or at the very least, get rid of plurality.

shankbrianb
shankbrianb

@Mark Frohnmayer  

Mark,

Could you tell me more about that endorsement privilege or where I can read more about it? On another post at another site you write that "Political parties, under the Unified Primary, will enjoy the special privilege of endorsement on the ballot, through processes they create and fund." What control does each party have to limit or allow the name of their party to be used by the candidates on the ballot, and how does this control of naming or trademark right, or lack thereof, compare to that of California's and Washington's top two systems? I am confused about the use of the terms "party affiliation" and "party preference," for example.

I definitely like the idea of political parties behaving more like endorsement organizations and less like ballot access political machines. I have been arguing for a long time that replacing plurality voting with approval voting would go a long way toward doing that. I consider plurality voting to be very detrimental to elections and to freedom of citizens, and I very badly want to see it replaced with approval voting somewhere in the US. For this reason, I really hope The Unified Primary system is adopted in Oregon, even though I have some reservations about it.

 

RichardWinger
RichardWinger

What is your explanation for the fact that when Oregon voted on top-two in 2008, it lost by 65.9% to 34.1%?

RichardWinger
RichardWinger

Why do you think the top-two primary is popular?  When it was on the ballot in Oregon in 2008, it lost 2:1.  When it was on the ballot in Arizona in 2012, it lost 2:1.  When it was on the ballot in California in 2004, it lost 54%-46%.  When it won in California in June 2010, it got 53.73% of the vote, even though the proponents outspent the opponents 20:1.

scpeacer
scpeacer moderator

@RichardWinger Oregon had flaws in the initiative and faced very well funded opposition which included the teachers union.

Mark Frohnmayer
Mark Frohnmayer

@RichardWinger Turnout data from Washington and California is of limited utility in assessing how the unified primary system will fare in Oregon for several reasons.  First, 75% of independent California voters polled after the last primary were not aware they were able to vote in the primary, so there's a major education hurdle that needs to be cleared there. Second, Oregon is vote by mail and as a result has significantly higher voter turnout than California in the primary. Oregon primary turnout has ranged from 38%-58% over the last couple decades. This vote by mail system will also make it much easier to educate the 30% of voters shut out of the primary that they will have a meaningful voice.


Again, lumping all "top 2" systems together as though they will have the same characteristics doesn't make any sense.  The means of selecting those two is of significant import.  Plurality voting with a top 2, as you suggest, shuts out minor party points of view, because similar candidates split votes. Name recognition and electability thus become dominant factors in the voter's decision making process. By using approval voting, minority viewpoints actually get a fair accounting, and in many districts could well allow a minor party candidate or an independent to advance and actually have a chance to win.


The really sad piece to me is that it is incontrovertibly the use of plurality voting in a general election including minor party candidates that shuts those candidates out of meaningful participation. They can't raise money, they don't get air time, they don't get into the debates because they are unelectable under plurality voting. The unified primary will actually give them a fighting chance.

clayshentrup
clayshentrup

@RichardWinger  


So, *again* -


I think the only legitimate grievance you could have is about the DATES of the two rounds of the election. You'd like the first round (the Approval Voting round) to occur in November, when there's the most turnout, and the alternative/minority points of view get the most attention.


So, again, I wonder what you'd think of Frohnmayer's plan then, if the dates were moved accordingly:


- no publicly funded primary

- first round of general election is held in November, and uses Approval Voting

- second round of general election is held a short while later

- better yet, we don't hold the second round if the winner was approved by over 50% of voters


Would THAT address your major grievance here?

RichardWinger
RichardWinger

Presidential elections are in November.  The US Constitution gives Congress the authority to tell the states which day to choose presidential electors, and Congress has exercised that authority since 1842.  Congressional elections are in November.  Article One, section 4, of the US Constitution gives Congress the authority to pass federal laws on congressional elections, and congress did that in 1872.  Therefore, the turnout in November is always going to be twice as high as in any primary.  Every state sets its own primary date and they range from March to September.  We are one country and we ought to hold our federal elections all on the same day.  Every other country in the world that has elections, holds the election on the same day all over the nation.

California's first statewide top-two primary, in June 2012, was the lowest turnout in the history of California, for a primary that included a presidential primary.  California has been holding presidential primaries for 100 years, so having the first top-two primary be the lowest is significant.  Also turnout in California special elections since top-two came into effect is down one-third; I have the data in the Jan. 1, 2014 Ballot Access News.  Also when Washington state started using top-two, in 2008, primary turnout dropped.

Keeping minor party candidates out of "the main event" in November is like telling protesters to a major party national convention that they have to gather two miles from the convention hall.  Or telling protesters at a presidential speech outdoors somewhere to do their protesting where the president can't see them.  This is why the ACLU of both southern California and northern California came out against Prop. 14; they knew it would muffle minority points of view.

clayshentrup
clayshentrup

@RichardWinger  


> What bothers me so much about California and Washington is that it excludes minority points of view in the general election campaign season


So just call the primary "the general election, round 1", and then have the "general election, top two". Now your minor parties can run in the "general election campaign season". This was the point of my previous thought experiment.


If you are referring to the normal general election that happens at the other levels of government, then it's just about the date the first round is held.

RichardWinger
RichardWinger

If Oregon established a system like Louisiana's, in which no one is excluded from the general election campaign and the November election itself, I would be OK with that.  I wouldn't advocate for it, but it wouldn't upset me.  What bothers me so much about California and Washington is that it excludes minority points of view in the general election campaign season, which is when most voters are paying attention.

clayshentrup
clayshentrup

@RichardWinger Here's a thought experiment.


Take the normal primary with Plurality Voting general elections. Then add, in any order, the following modifications:


1) There are no government sanctioned (tax-payer funded) party nomination elections. Parties are free to endorse any candidate they want, by any means they want.


2) The general election ballots just list a candidate's name. They don't list a candidate's platform, or values, or a list of parties which have endorsed them. Candidates are free to promote themselves and talk about those things while campaigning.


3) Instead of using Plurality Voting, the GENERAL election uses Approval Voting followed by a head-to-head contest between the two most approved candidates.


I cannot see how you could make a particularly strong argument against either of these individual reforms. Maybe you don't like that we're calling the first round of the general election "a primary". I agree it would be better to call it a two-round GENERAL election.


Given that, I think the only legitimate grievance you could have is about the DATES of the two rounds of the election. You'd like the first round to occur together with the national elections, when there's the most turnout.


I wonder what you'd think of Frohnmayer's plan then, if the dates were moved accordingly.

clayshentrup
clayshentrup

@RichardWinger It's all relative. Approval Voting has almost zero popularity, because virtually no one even knows about it. Compared to that, top-two primary is immensely popular. It has passed in WA and CA. Whether that support was organic, or manufactured, the support was there to get it passed.