On Tuesday, December 10, voters in the Fifth Congressional District of Massachusetts will select its next representative in Congress.
What a waste of money.
Now, i love elections. I really love a good contest, a debate of the issues. However, the December 10 election is going to have none of that. Frank Addivinola is going to attempt to sell bacon cheeseburgers at a vegan convention, bringing tea party rhetoric into a deep blue district.
The problem is simple. You now have a runoff between the first place finisher (Katherine Clark) and a distant sixth-place finisher on Primary Day. Addivinola’s 4,759 primary votes were closer to Paul John Maisano’s 1,498 votes than fifth-place finisher Karen Spilka’s 9,057 votes.
I will certainly walk across the street to my friendly polling place, and keep my friendly and lonely polling workers company for a few minutes while ensuring my district dispatches a Democrat to fill this seat. But, friends, wouldn’t it be better if the voters of the Fifth had a better choice?
Just to set the stage, here’s a look at the votes cast last Tuesday (Republicans and Democrats grouped together).
|Paul John Maisano||1,498|
Clark won 27% of the votes cast last Tuesday, Addivinola won 6%. Clark will go to Washington because she was able to get about a quarter of the folks coming to the polls to vote for her, which led to her narrow-cast strategy.
What if Katherine Clark had to get to 50% against another strong candidate? If Katherine had to run against the second place finisher, instead of the sixth place tea party guy, would her campaign be any different?
If we had a “top two” primary, we would have Clark versus Koutoujian, not Clark versus Addivinola. We would have a real race. Clark would need to expand beyond the “women’s issues” that dominated her primary to appeal to a group of voters who would see Koutoujian as a reasonable alternative. She would need to talk about poverty, transportation, Afghanistan, education, sequestration, and the other topics of the day. So would Peter. It would be a great race, and the winner would be stronger as a result.
There have been two articles in the past 24 hours supporting this concept. The New York Times describes the top-two primary as one of three reforms that have turned the California legislature from gridlock to productivity. A Washington Post article goes even farther, describing the top-two system as the basis for ending the nonsense in the House of Representatives. Reid Wilson writes, “A top-two primary system, one that incentivizes candidates in even the most conservative or liberal districts to appeal to the vast middle that otherwise plays a limited role in picking members of Congress.”
My Instant Runoff friends are going to chime in here, saying their solution will fix the problem and save the cost of the second election. It might be purer democracy, but I think a little too much goes on under the hood. Ballot switching isn’t very transparent, and I think the final election with the two top candidates is more likely to support the discussion of issues and priorities we deserve. I also suspect an Instant Runoff ballot question in Massachusetts would be soundly defeated, while a top-two primary would be easy to understand and would be the kind of reform that would be likely to gain an affirmative vote in a referendum.
Masachusetts Republicans have driven themselves into political irrelevance. We need to find a way to restore the democratic process in a state where the GOP is not a viable option. Top-two is the answer for Massachusetts.