"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Top-two for everyone?

Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling is going national, in the New York Times, with a proposal to do what Washington state and a few others now do: Provide for an open top-two election at the primary level, and a runoff in November.

There’s a real logic to this, on two levels.

First, the traditional primary system (as used in Oregon and Idaho), which is used by the political parties to choose nominees, turns the primary election into partisan events. But a lot of activity gets done in those elections apart from intra-party selections: local government elections, ballot issues, judicial choices. In Oregon, at least one nonpartisan statewide office (superintendent) will be filled in the primary, since there are just two candidates – in an election billed as essentially a partisan event.

Second, this approach would allow all voters to participate throughout the process. Since no party nominees are being chosen, all voters can vote in all races in the top-two. This has the effect of weakening party structures, somewhat. But in current conditions, that may not be a bad thing.

[Belatedly, a hat tip to Jack Bogdanski.]

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  1. Eric Koszyk said:

    As someone living in Washington State, I can attest that top-two primaries are a horrible idea. The only thing they do is strengthen the two major parties and get rid of third parties.

    In 2008 in most Washington state legislative districts the general election was between a Democrat and a Republican. The exceptions were several districts in Seattle who had two Democrats and several in Eastern Washington with two Republicans.

    Very few third party candidates even ran since they knew they had no chance of getting to the general election.

    Instead of more choices for voters there were even fewer.

    If this idea comes up for a vote in your state you should vote against it. It’s a reform measure that may sound good but has awful consequences when put into practice.

    March 29, 2010

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