With public disgust with Congress at an all-time high, you’d think people would be paying attention to Tuesday’s election for the next rep from the Mass. 5th District, Ed Markey’s old seat. But election official see no excitement: Framingham Town Clerk Valerie Mulvey is worried turnout may not hit double-figures.
As I argued in my column Sunday, the problem isn’t just voter fatigue. Massachusetts is a one-party state. The Democratic Party uses its power to keep it that way and the Republican Party can’t do anything about it. As a result, voters are deprived of real choices and competitive races. Democrats don’t challenge other Democrats unless there’s an open seat. When there is a fight for the Democratic nomination, Republicans and independents are left out of the election that counts, and moderate Democrats are at a disadvantage in campaigns aimed at activists. Most of the time, Republicans don’t stand a chance in the general election, which discourages good candidates from making the attempt.
Some of us have grown old waiting for the Massachusetts Republican Party to develop into a competitive force. I submit that since it’s proving so hard to create a real two-party system in Massachusetts, maybe it makes sense to de-emphasize parties altogether.
Massachusetts should adopt an open primary system: Put all candidates from both parties on the primary ballot and let everyone vote. The top two vote-getters compete in the general election. California has adopted this reform, in part to remove the bias toward extremists fostered by party primaries. I think it might also take a little away from the advantage incumbents have, encourage more candidates to run and make general elections more meaningful.
The 5th District is a great example. In 1976 and in 3013, the seat opened up, attracting a crowd of Democrats. Markey won with 23 percent of the vote, and never faced a serious challenge in the next 37 years. Katherine won in a crowded field with 32 percent of the vote and if she doesn’t handily roll over Frank Addivinola Tuesday I’ll eat my hat.
Now, look at raw numbers: Clark won her primary with almost 22,000 votes – four times the 4,759 votes Addivinola tallied in the GOP primary: Five candidates in the Democratic primary won more votes than Addivinola: Clark; Peter Koutoujian, 15,290; Carl Sciortino, 11, 185; Will Brownsberger, 10,142; and Karen Spilka, 9,057.
Under an open primary system, Koutoujian would likely be facing off against Clark in Tuesday’s election – and people would be paying attention.