Lack of a middle ground is a major crisis threatening our government today. In recent times, our elected officials have adopted extremist political views which have penetrated into society. In order to stop fueling extremism, we need to find moderation so the government can be more productive. To do this, we must replace the primary election.
The Primary election system was created in the Progressive Era to follow the new Democratic party rules. The goal is to find a sole party nominee for the upcoming general election. This gives the voter the opportunity to elect someone to represent their affiliated political party. This way our government – federal, state, and local – is elected by citizens. Primaries have become determinative, while the general election, a mere hurdle. The stakes for these two elections need to be reversed, giving the general election a more definitive sway for an effective outcome.
In the case of presidential elections, states and parties hold primaries from January to June of the election year. Voting happens through a secret ballot, and can be open, closed, or hybrid. According to USA Gov, during an open primary, people can vote for a candidate of any political party, while in a closed primary, only voters registered with that party can vote.
The present system’s goal is to win the favor of these more extreme partisans, leaving both parties little choice but to move towards these extremes. Imagine you’re a member of Congress deciding how to vote on a bipartisan bill that proposes changes in Covid relief checks. Some may agree on worker compensation, while others may be against extra benefits. Rather than asking yourself if it’s a good idea and what the majority of my constituents want, you ask what it will take to win the next primary. This creates a conflict of interest between acting for the public good and getting re-elected.
The problem of the primary system has taken flight recently, especially after the U.S. Capitol attack on January 6, 2021. 147 Republicans objected to the Electoral College result, primarily out of fear from their own constituents who could turn on them in the next primary. While their objections may betray conservative legal thought and personal desires, many government officials see this as a necessary evil to obtain primary control.
Previously, politicians had a much harder time getting elected because districts were more heterogeneous regarding party affiliation. This forced politicians to moderate their ideas to appeal to the greater population. However, both parties wanted to ensure electoral victory, and responded by gerrymandering districts to create undue advantages for themselves. Due to the rural and urban divide, districts became more partisan. State legislatures maneuvered geographical borders to ensure majority rule for their party, resulting in fewer areas of competition.
Politicians base their behavior to appeal to the group they will represent, as said by Unite America. Primaries, dominated by highly ideological voters (only 10% determine a supermajority (83%) of congress) , have transformed representation of the broader electorate to a radical cluster. Most moderate candidates drop out of running to begin with because they know they can’t win. There is a disconnect between what it takes to govern and what it takes to get re-elected.
In 2020, 151 out of 435 congressional districts had no competition in the dominant-party primary. As noted by United America, zero voters had a say in the outcome of those 151 districts, about 35 percent of Congress. And in 10 states, almost 11 million independent voters couldn’t participate in either party’s closed primaries. A small minority decides the majority of our elections.
In a recent article written by the Center for American Progress, author Alex Tausanovitch stated, “Electoral rules discourage problem-solving and reward conflict …. the two major parties engage in an endless tug of war.” In 2017, the senate voted 51-48 to pass the Republicans tax overhaul bill. According to the New York Times, all 48 Democrats voted no, while all Republicans, except late Senator John McCain, voted yes. We are fueling polarization in our government and rejecting healthy competition.
Electoral reform is needed to improve the health of our democracy. One solution is to replace one-ballot voting in primaries with ranked-choice voting. As said in an article by Digital Commons, ranked-choice voting is a system where instead of selecting a single candidate, voters rank multiple candidates in order of preference, and this repeats until one candidate has most of the votes. This functions so that candidates can’t win with only a slight majority; for example, 21 percent from 5 candidates. After votes are counted, the candidate who receives the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and their followers’ votes are transferred to their second choice.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) eliminates corruption and creates more space for additional candidates. By choosing from a full slate of candidates, voters aren’t motivated to just vote for their party representative, which allows for a stronger middle ground. It also minimizes the effects of gerrymandering since representation is dispersed better. Although it doesn’t eliminate extremism, the wider range of candidates make it harder for radicals to win. The undeclared barrier between parties weaken, and politicians can make cross-party efforts without fear of losing their primary.
RCV has been adopted in over 50 jurisdictions across the U.S., including both statewide and federal elections in Maine and Alaska. According to the Center for American Progress, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District Rep. Jared Golden won the U.S. House election twice after only receiving second-choice votes from voters who originally supported other candidates. Two states and 60 localities in the U.S. use run-off elections, and in 2022 elections alone, one state and eight localities voted to adopt RCV.
As the next presidential election nears upon us, it’s more important than ever that we ensure our elections are free from corruption and radicalization. The future of our country’s democracy lies in our hands, and we must change not only who we elect, but how we elect.