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Voting in the top two isn’t the only way to have an open primary. Oklahoma can do better

Groups and individuals looking to copy California’s top-two jungle primary system market it as an open primary system, without mentioning that this is not the only way to have an open primary system., and indeed, it is not even the most common.

Proponents of Oklahoma’s top-two system also fail to remember that Californians are highly critical of it, having experienced persistently uncompetitive races between candidates of the same party and other undesirable outcomes.

And while it is likely seen as a benefit to the establishment politicians who support the top-two primaries, it is an electoral platform that is harmful to alternative parties and candidates and prevents voter-enhancing electoral reforms, such as ranked-choice voting, from being implemented in general elections. to be possible.

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The National Conference of State Legislatures provides an informative description of the types of state primaries. Oklahoma has partially closed primaries, where political parties can choose to allow unaffiliated voters (called independents in our state) to participate in their primaries, or limit them only to those who are with that party registered.

The top-two system is accurately described as a multi-party primary, in which all candidates of any or no affiliation are listed on one ballot. It is distinct from traditional open primaries where each voter can choose either party’s primary ballot. Fifteen states have traditional open primaries, and another seven have a similar system where all primaries are open to unaffiliated voters. Washington is the only other state with a California-style top-two system.

What do people say about voting in the Top Two?

More and more California election observers are calling for the retraction of the Top Two, which includes op-eds critical of the system Bloomberg News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York TimesCalifornia Capitol Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, And Independent Voter News in the past two months.

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Opponents point out that party politics has not led to the election of more moderate candidates. Statewide races in California are between two Democrats, non-competitive, or both in the general election.

The top two also have the potential to thwart the majority, as in the 2016 Washington state treasurer elections, where three Democrats combined for 51.5% of the vote, but split the vote so evenly that the two Republicans advanced to the general elections.

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Implementing the top two California-style primaries in Oklahoma would usually result in a general election between two Republicans, but looking at all candidates in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, the top vote-getters were the two Democrats, Drew Edmondson and Connie Johnson.

In California’s most recent U.S. Senate primaries, the Top Two’s perverse incentives caused the two most popular Democrats to run ads designed to increase votes for two Republicans. The nation “called the kind of tasteless dirty trick that encourages California’s bizarre open primary system, which has been in place for the past thirteen years.”

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Independent and alternative party candidates are severely disadvantaged by the primaries of the top two jungle primaries.

Only one candidate outside the two parties of the establishment has made it to the November ballot in California’s statewide elections under this system in the last thirteen years, independently wealthy Steve Poizner who took over as insurance commissioner in 2018 and lost, an office he previously held as a Republican.

Only in the presidential race do California voters see some diversity of choices in a high-profile election because that election is exempt from top-two voting, a system that allows the minority of voters who participate in the primaries to eliminate entire categories of candidates from the election. to delete. general election vote when the majority votes.

It would also make a promising reform, such as ranked-choice voting, impossible in a general election, because it would make no sense to rank only two candidates.

Can we learn from California?

As the number of independently registered voters continues to grow nationally and in Oklahoma, it is becoming increasingly desirable to open primary elections in our state.

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But it is unwise to be misled by the two biggest proponents into believing that a jungle primary is the only way to do that.

There is no evidence that California is less partisan or more moderate. In fact, it has been quite the opposite.

Ranked-choice voting, which is not possible in a two-candidate general election, has much greater potential to increase voter choice and reduce partisanship.

Traditional open primaries, in which any voter can choose any party’s primary, are the most popular method in the US, although proponents of jungle primaries never mention them.

A reasonable interim step would be for all primaries to be open to voters registered as independents. Every Oklahoman should oppose any move toward an undemocratic California-style top-two system that limits voter choice and increases polarization.

Chris Powell

Chris Powell

Chris Powell is chairman of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party and was the party’s first candidate for governor in 2018.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma’s primaries should be open to voters registered as independents

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