The Case for Non-Partisan Primaries

Throughout this year’s election season, talk of the pitfalls
of partisanship permeated the national conversation while the citizenry lauded candidates
who pledged to tear down barriers and end politics as usual. The prospect of
change spurred an inordinate share of voters to shun party loyalty and embrace
pragmatism.

The election became a resounding critique of the ultraistic
policies and parochial doctrines that crippled a national economy and alienated
large segments of the populace.

But the elocution of our aspiring representation fell short.
The debates and town hall sessions failed to address the structural flaws in
the electoral process that impede participation and fuel partisan quibbling.
One such defect is the way we choose our candidates.

We do ourselves a disservice by granting political parties
the responsibility of selecting our public office applicant pools. Limiting our
choices according to party affiliation (or lack thereof) creates a potential
obstacle to voting one’s better judgment. Closed-primaries hold leaders
accountable only to members of their party rather than the diversified
electorate.

Such a system is
prone to causing rifts between constituents and leadership and dissenting
voices are muffled in the process. Policymakers take office with partial
mandates while voters from the losing parties put their demands on hold until
the next election.

A few states have chosen to tackle the problem by
instituting practical electoral reforms. Among them, the state of Washington is setting an
example with promising new steps toward non-partisan elections. If California’s passage of Proposition 11 (the redistricting
measure) serves as a bellwether, then current efforts to adopt Washington’s method may
prove successful.

In October, Steve Peace, a former member of the state Legislature
and chairman of the California Independent Voter Project, submitted a proposal
to the attorney general’s office that would model our elections after Washington’s top-two primary.

Under the top-two primary system, voters would not declare their
party membership as a prerequisite to casting ballots for candidates seeking
state office. The two candidates receiving the most votes would advance to the
general election.

Supporters of the measure contend that eliminating partisan
registration would increase cooperation across party lines. Governor
Schwarzenegger, who recently made an executive order forcing the Legislature to
expedite an agreement on the state budget, supports the initiative.

The initiative is not entirely new to the state. In March of
1996 voters passed similar reforms with Proposition 198. Four years later,
after much opposition from political parties, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the
measure unconstitutional.

Political parties likely fear that independent voters and
members of other camps would be able to influence their candidates’ chances of
advancing to the general election. Perhaps, but it is more likely the change
would force frontrunners from major parties to offer platforms with measurably
pluralistic visions. This might increase the probability of say, a Republican
candidate in Sacramento
weighing the demands of Peace and Freedom Party voters.

Let’s be frank. Party identity ain’t what it used to
be.

An article Time Magazine
entitled The New Liberal Order cited a 2005 Pew Research
Center
survey that
“identified a new group of voters it called ‘pro-government
conservatives’”. The term refers to an
emerging faction of conservatives who break from tradition by “endorsing
government regulation and government spending.”

Our political climate is evolving in a way that rejects the
politics of immoderacy. Now we must ensure our electoral process advances in a
manner that reflects this progress.