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Top-Two Primary Bills Hit State Legislatures Nationwide

Created: 03 February, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
2 min read

A wave of bills aimed at reforming primary elections in four states were introduced last month. Legislators in Idaho, New Mexico, Illinois, and Virginia are looking to do away with their state’s partisan primary in favor of a nonpartisan top-two system. A top-two primary is where all candidates, regardless of party affiliation appear on the same primary ballot and the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election in November.


Idaho State Senator Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, explained the rationale behind his bill, S1001, saying, “The people control the ballot, not the parties.” For Sen. Burgoyne, returning the state to a more inclusive election system will translate into better politics. He says representatives are becoming too beholden to vocal and influential minorities, and moving to a top-two primary could help reverse that trend. “The problem we have is the majority is not governing” said Sen. Bergoyne in an interview for IVN. “Top two will tend to bring to the top, people who represent the majority.”

Turnout in Idaho’s 2016 closed primary was abysmally low. Only 23 percent of registered voters participated, effectively deciding many races before November. According to Ballotpedia, over 65 percent of Idaho’s incumbents ran unopposed in their party’s primary.

New Mexico

In New Mexico, Rep. Antonio Maestas, D-Albuquerque, sees opening up the election process as a way to better guarantee the constitution’s promise of representative government for all citizens. In a statement for IVN, Rep. Maestas said, “By expanding the primaries to all eligible voters we will form a more perfect union.”

Nearly a quarter of a million voters are unaffiliated in New Mexico - about 19 percent of eligible voters in the state.


Delegate Sam Rasoul’s (D-Roanoke) resolution, HJ541, was tabled earlier this week, but the resolution would have amended Virginia’s constitution to implement a nonpartisan top-two primary in place of its existing partisan primary. In an interview for IVN, Del. Rasoul said he hoped moving to a nonpartisan primary would make elections in his state more competitive:

“I support free and fair elections and would like to see more competitive elections. Of 122 incumbents in the VA House and Senate, all 122 were reelected in the 2015 elections. That’s not a good sign. I also think this allows all voters to have the right to equal participation in elections and encourages compromise and a more functional legislature after elections.”

Del. Rasoul says another top-two bill is unlikely to be introduced this session, but he’s optimistic about another bill, HB2443, which allows for fusion voting - where multiple parties can nominate the same candidate.


HB0285, introduced by Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago), isn’t the first time he’s proposed reforming Illinois’ primary elections. Rep. Fortner has been working to open Illinois elections for several years, but voters are still required to join a party in order to vote in the Land of Lincoln’s publicly funded primary elections.

Image: roibu / Shutterstock.com