New Arkansas Bill: Nonpartisan Elections Needed to Combat Partisan Extremism

Some legislators in Arkansas are joining the fight for a more open and transparent political process that includes all voters regardless of their party affiliation, or lack thereof.

On March 1, State Representative Dan Douglas (R) introduced HB1766, which would institute what the bill calls a “nonpartisan blanket primary” system, by amending the state’s election code. The bill was co-sponsored by Representative Clarke Tucker (D), giving it bipartisan support in the House.

The blanket primary proposed in the bill is actually similar to the nonpartisan, top-two primary systems in California and Washington state, according to its cosponsor. All candidates running for Congress or state office would appear on one single primary ballot, and voters would be able to pick any candidate, regardless of their party affiliation.

The two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, would move on to the general election. The law would not apply to elections concerning a county office, municipal office, or township office.

IVN talked to Rep. Tucker, who explained the importance of passing electoral reform:

“If you live in a district that goes one way or the other [regarding party], the candidate is decided in the primary. So if it’s a majority Democratic district, Republicans basically have no say of who their representative will be because the decision is made in the primaries. Same goes the other way around… but if the decision is made in the general election, everybody gets a say.” – State Rep. Clarke Tucker

Tucker considers this piece of legislation a voters’ rights bill. Both he and Representative Douglas are engaging in a bipartisan effort to give an equal voice to all voters. They also hope a nonpartisan election system will increase voter turnout and reduce the number of “party extremists” in the state legislature.

“When you have districts that are majorly Democrats or Republicans, either naturally or because of gerrymandering, the only political insensitive for politicians is to not lose in the primary and when that is the intention it makes for more extreme partisan candidates instead of moderates. We have a lot of extreme in our politics now, we need more of the other kind.” – State Rep. Clarke Tucker

But the bill could have a tough time in the legislature. After Douglas and Tucker introduced the bill, they realized it may be necessary to first amend the state’s constitution for it to become law.

Tucker believes this hurts the bill’s chances during the current legislative session, but said both he and Douglas are committed to the cause and they would fight for it and see it through, either in this session or the next one.

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