Virginia Delegate Sam Rasoul has introduced new legislation that would implement a nonpartisan, top-two primary similar to California’s new election system passed in 2010 under Proposition 14 (authored by the Independent Voter Project, a co-publisher of IVN). Rasoul argues that the statewide reform will bring fairer and more efficient elections to Virginia.
To recap, under the nonpartisan election model, all candidates and voters (regardless of party affiliation) participate on a single ballot in all statewide primary elections (minus the presidential race). The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, move on to the general election in November. Advocates say nonpartisan elections create greater accountability among lawmakers at the state and federal levels.
“In Virginia, we want to start a critical conversation about just how democratic our process is, especially when 90 percent of legislators are only concerned with the primary electorate and how that really alienates the vast majority of voters in the general electorate. I think public primaries are an important piece of that,” said Rasoul during an interview for IVN.
Rasoul admits that “there is no perfect solution, or silver bullet” in election reform, but sees top-two as a step in the right direction. According to Rasoul, the passing of his bill will free voters from being “held hostage to the primary electorate system,” resulting in a better voiced and empowered majority.
Responding to critics who say top-two can create same-party races and do nothing for third-party candidates who already struggle to gain ballot access, Rasoul said in Virginia, “most elections only have one choice to begin with” due to current primary election laws and gerrymandered districts.
In Virginia, we want to start a critical conversation about just how democratic our process is...Virginia Delegate Sam Rasoul
In other words, since the re-election rate is so high for incumbents, 9 in 10 races in the state will never be competitive under the current system and many incumbents sail through to re-election without a challenger from an opposing party. All the incumbent has to do is survive a primary challenger, if one even emerges.
Rasoul argues that in a hypothetical situation where two Democrats move on to the general election in a heavily Democratic district, nonpartisan elections would give a chance for voters to “grill both of them,” providing more accountability for legislators to reflect the views and values of the district rather than riding on party affiliation to get the vote.
In the interest of long-term systemic reform, Rasoul is convinced that nonpartisan elections would give voice to the commonly overlooked majority of Virginia voters. It is unclear at the moment when or if his bill will be heard.
Editor’s note: This article was written by IVP intern Courtney Pittam.