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Let The Voters Decide: Why I Now Support the Top-Two Primary

by Samuel Genson, published

When I first heard about the top-two primary system, I thought "Yeah, it's alright but not all that helpful." In fact, there might be an IVN article where I endorse it, but don't exactly shout it from the rooftops. I had some of my own ideas and this one didn't exactly seem impactful.

I was wrong.

While I was looking at big picture ideas on how to overhaul an obviously broken process, I simply ignored the simplest and easiest way of all.

For my site, I thought of many different ways we could redistrict, reconfigure primary calendars, and open up the primary process for more voters. Heck, I even went so far as to begin a post about redrawing state boundaries (that didn't go too far as it's more fitting for a doctoral thesis than a blog post).

One solution was staring me in the face even as I continued to write for IVN. However, it wasn't until the Mississippi primary that I realized

how important a top-two primary could be.

For an increasing number of elected officials, the primary election is the biggest battle. Once they win victory there, they can sit back and coast to re-election thanks to the hyperpartisan districts that have been drawn up in numerous states.

So, if the primary is such an integral stage of the elections process, why not give every voter, regardless of party affiliation, an opportunity to decide which candidates will be on the general election ballot by letting them select from the entire field of candidates? Why not let voters, instead of parties, decide who the best candidates are?

While I grew up in Michigan, I politically came of age in Iowa. In the Hawkeye State, they still believe in competitive elections; congressional seats are not usually cakewalks and races for the State House are true contests throughout the state.

Iowa employs the nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency to draw up its new maps every 10 years. While this limits the political stacking of seats, some throughout the state still lack credible challenges in the fall.

Why is this? Well, it is simply because even without using partisanship to create voting districts, some regions are simply more conservative or liberal than others due to their demographics (e.g. Texas is largely conservative while New York is much more liberal).

The northwest part of Iowa is one of the more conservative and Republican-friendly areas of the state. The southeast section leans more liberal and plays better for the Democratic Party. Therefore, even in a state where political parties are taken out of the equation in redistricting, they still have their strongholds.

So, the question on my mind is this: why not use this to create an even better situation for voters in Iowa?

A top-two system would force the top two vote-getters in the primary to appeal to every voter ahead of November, not just voters within their own party's base. Perhaps if people were shown that their votes do matter, more voters would partake in the process.

If this idea could make voting better in Iowa, a state that prides itself on voting, couldn't it also have an impact throughout the rest of the country as well? Why must some of the best candidates be silenced halfway through an election? Why must the most competitive elections be restricted to a small partisan few? Doesn't this seem to be at odds with the freedoms our nation stands for?

Photo retrieved from the Public Policy Institute of California. No credit attributed.

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