An Immoderate Proposal: Achieving True Voter Enfranchisement
The Independent Voter Project (IVP) seeks, according to its vision statement, to create an environment where "non-partisan voters...regardless of party affiliation" are able to “participate actively and effectively in local, regional, state and federal public policy decisions."
Applying this vision practically means that IVP, according to its own mission statement, must seek "to encourage non-partisan voters (meaning, per the mission statement, independently-minded voters 'regardless of party affiliation,' not just voters declining to register in any party) to vote and to participate in the democratic process."
I submit that IVP’s authorship and support of California’s Proposition 14, which created my state’s present top-two system (where only the top two vote-getters in the primary, whatever their party affiliations, appear on the main election ballot), does not serve IVP’s vision and mission nearly so well as supposed.
On May 13, 2016, when I first read IVP’s "Who We Are," I sent an email to the organization addressing this topic. In it, I noted that my own experience with this top-two system in California has been negative.
"I feel my freedom of choice has been reduced in the main elections," I noted, "since I am now never given the option to vote my conscience and select a third-party or independent candidate. The ‘top-two’ primary approach," I added, "has solidified the two major parties’ control of elections, not weakened it."
In response, an unidentified IVP representative (signing only as "IVP") responded that I’d made "an interesting point...about top two," then added the following:
"What you may want to consider is that both major parties strongly oppose top-two, because the system changed from a party-centric system to a voter-centric system. We are currently exploring ways to improve upon what we view as progress in people-focused elections, including ways to engage more third parties and their voters."
Taking the terms "voter-centric system" and "people-focused election" as my cue, I offer the following immoderate proposal for moving forward. I base this proposal on the subjective basis of personal experience, not appealing to any studies, and not drawing upon any focus group or voter-survey data.
From my purely subjective perspective, a fully open primary that still permitted the top vote-getter of each ballot-qualified party to run in the main election would be ideal. Survival of no-party candidates past the primary could perhaps be determined by a vote-count threshold in line with the threshold for party ballot qualification.
I realize this approach risks occasional runoff elections after main elections, but it seems unfair to exclude ballot-qualified alternative parties from the main election given that the requirements for ballot qualification are quite high; at any rate, they seem so in my state of California (where I am registered in a not-yet-ballot-qualified party). On the same principle, it seems unfair to exclude from main elections independent candidates who get at least as many votes as would have been required to ballot-qualify a new political party.
In addition to being unfair to ballot-qualified third parties and equivalently well-supported independent candidates, the top-two system is unfair to individual voters (even if less unfair to them than the old system).
In a truly voter-centric, people-focused system, independently minded voters would never have to vote against conscience and conviction for strategic reasons; that is, for fear that voting for a preferred but long-shot candidate would leave them without personally viable voting options later.
Yet such is just what the top-two system does in California: voters must fear voting for anyone who is not a leading candidate in one of the major parties, meaning one of the two parties that have rigged the system to disenfranchise independent thinkers unwilling to toe any party’s line. These voters’ right to vote in accord with conscience and conviction should not end in the primary.
Implementation of this proposal would most fully enfranchise all voters, and would best fulfill IVP’s vision and mission.
It is, admittedly, immoderate, emphasizing principles rather than pragmatism. May I suggest, however, that unprincipled pragmatism is what has allowed the two major parties to maintain their long choke hold on a soon-to-asphyxiate body of voters demonstrably dissatisfied with both those parties?