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As Political Landscape Evolves, Parties Must Adapt to Survive

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

The political landscape in the United States is changing. The electorate is frustrated with the two dominant political parties as they have completely abandoned voters for their own interests. If current trends continue (and they are showing no signs of reverse), it will not be long before half of the national voting age population self-identifies as unaffiliated with either major party, most dropping any kind of party label at all.

As the electorate continues to change, the

inherent flaws of partisan primaries is becoming apparent to more people.

The American people need an election system that guarantees their fundamental right to a meaningful voice in elections and doesn’t mean they have to sacrifice other rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution — including the First Amendment right of non-association. No opponent of nonpartisan election reform that I have talked to has adequately disputed the fact that the Constitution guarantees the right voters have to complete access to the election process, but does not guarantee a party’s right to be on the ballot — much less only two.

The founding principles that built our representative and constitutional democracy was not that private organizations would have control over this democracy. This power should reside solely with the people -- the voters. This is the only way to ensure proper representation. The parties -- major or minor -- do not represent many voters.

The movement for nonpartisan election reform is growing in the United States. We have already seen efforts toward a more representative system made in states like Washington and California, which approved the Top-Two Primary System in 2010 under Proposition 14. "Top-Two" allows all voters and candidates to participate on a single ballot, ensuring that every voter has an opportunity to decide who will be on the general election ballot. The top two vote getters move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Is the system without flaw? No. Many supporters of California moving away from a partisan primary system will agree that there is room for improvement, but also argue that it is a major step in the right direction.

One consequence of "Top-Two" is that primaries can result in same-party general elections -- a major point of contention for opponents of the primary system. Often this can be the result of lopsided party registration numbers, but it can sometimes be the result of a lopsided number of candidates for one party. For instance, in California's 31st Congressional District, voters had two Republicans to choose from in the 2012 general election -- even though the district leaned democratic in the presidential and senate elections -- because the Democratic vote was split between 4 candidates in the primary while there were only 2 Republican candidates.

According to Richard Winger on Ballot Access News, this could very well happen again in 2014. The only issue with Winger's analysis is he doesn't mention that 2012 voter registration numbers in San Bernardino County, the primary county in CA-31, showed that over 20 percent of registered voters were No Party Preference (NPP) voters, not to mention the higher percentage of voters not registered with either major party. Yet, the Ballot Access News report makes the mistake of only confining the issue to a Republican versus Democrat perspective.

It is worth noting that under the old closed partisan system in California, the significant number of voters who choose not to affiliate with either major party (currently

over 26% in San Bernardino County) would not have had an opportunity to make their voices completely heard on who they think should have been on the general election ballot, unless they registered with a party, which they obviously do not want to do or they would be registered with a party.

If anything, this shows that some local political parties in California are simply failing to adapt to the "Top-Two" system. To re-emphasis a key point, nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it guarantee a party's right to be on the ballot. If political parties want to survive under a nonpartisan system and in the changing political landscape, they will need to adapt. There is no reason why local parties cannot hold their own convention or private elections to get their members behind a single candidate.

It is not easy to find the perfect solution for elections, but there are solutions that will better protect the rights of voters as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. "Top-Two" is not a perfect system and there is room for improvement, but it does put us on the right path. Some states, like Oregon, are considering reforms that would improve upon nonpartisan election systems that already exist by adding things like approval voting -- which would help eliminate the spoiler effect that can still happen under the current "Top-Two" system in California.

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