On July 31, freshman U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) introduced a bill titled, “Open Our Democracy Act,” which was referred to the Committees on House Administration, Oversight and Government Reform, and the Judiciary. The bill proposes the following:
- All congressional primaries be open, top-two races.
- The candidates that appear in the primary ballot have the option of designating their party preference or declaring no preference at all.
- Election Day will be designated a public holiday like Independence Day, Christmas, etc.
- Order the Comptroller General to conduct a study of the feasibility and desirability of enacting national standards and criteria for congressional redistricting
The bill, if passed, would apply to the 2016 elections and all elections thereafter. In an editorial that appeared in the Washington Post, Delaney announced the introduction of the bill, arguing:
“Congressional dysfunction is the logical result of closed primaries, too many gerrymandered one-party seats and low-turnout elections…Step one is giving independents and moderates a voice…primary elections are the only contests that matter…Open primaries can have a moderating effect even in districts that are so red or blue that the top two candidates are likely to come from the same party; in both primary and general elections, an ability to win votes beyond a narrow base could be decisive.”
This is a symphony to independents’ ears and a cacophony to entrenched partisan operatives.
“Political operatives hate this,” said Delaney in an interview for IVN. “I’ve written five editorials in the Washington Post since arriving in Congress. The editorial announcing this bill has, by far, garnered the most attention from citizens by any measure.”
Delaney’s bill would create a legal path for people of different political stripes to run and vote in primaries.
However, he is aware that unchecked gerrymandering can offset some of these gains. In order to guarantee one-party domination, line drawers (typically private consultants) “crack” populations of opposing and independent voters and pack them into districts where their votes are washed out by partisans.“We need new incentives to make districts more competitive,” he said. “A good way to do that would be redistricting reform, which is more complicated than instituting open primaries, but we try to address that in the bill through the GAO process.”
Delaney acknowledges that he has benefited from partisan redistricting and Maryland's closed primaries (the two parties usually block non-affiliated voters from participating), as some critics have been quick to point out. However, he added that just because someone benefits from something, doesn't make it right.
"The process that created my district, of which I had no part, could best be described as not completely consistent with representative democracy," Delaney said. "It did create the opportunity for me to run for office, but the way it was done was not admirable. I think you should do what is right and there is an irony to this, but I’m trying to use it to my advantage on this bill.”
Delaney believes a more open and representative electoral process would allow the country to function better, which is better for everyone."Right now, we have incentives in place through redistricting that lead politicians to only talk to half of the country," he remarked. " In those districts, primaries are more important than general elections.”
Delaney’s team is currently working on collecting co-sponsorships for the bill.
“Jared Polis (D-Colo.) just joined on,” he beamed. “We’re focused on building momentum now. That’s our next phase.”
Photo Source: Baltimore Sun