Some snow day thoughts on election reform since I can’t take a break from thinking about civics. The California jungle primary is starting to look pretty stupid. With all due respect to Pablo, a strong and smart advocate of that reform on this site, it is starting to create a lot of unintended consequences. First, it introduces runoffs and non-partisan primaries which are both great ideas, but in maintaining first past the post, it actually undermines its own intentions.
There is a strong chance the crowded Democratic fields in some contested California Congressional races, a sign of excitement and engagement on that side of the aisle, could actually result in Republicans advancing to the final two spots and shutting out the Democrats entirely, since their vote is more concentrated to fewer candidates. For example, in one district where there are 13 Democrats running, even if they combine to get 60% of the vote overall, the 40% of the voters split between the two Republicans would have a far higher chance of advancing to the final two spots. Thus, a Democratic leaning district that produces a stronger and more crowded primary field will be stuck choosing between candidates a minority of the electorate would have chosen. Converting these jungle primaries to a ranked choice instant runoff model would solve all of these problems, and avoid the need and expense of multiple elections.
If done in a non-partisan way, IRV would also allow us to pick and choose candidates from either party that we like, which should help prevent the emergence of extremists candidates in the future. In the Illinois Attorney General primary there are five independent Democrats running who will likely dilute the vote on that side of the fence letting one of the hackish establishment Democrats win with a minority plurality instead. There is also an interesting socially moderate, biracial Republican running on a strong criminal justice reform and ethics accountability platform who I would absolutely want to vote for as my sixth choice in a hypothetical open primary IRV ballot. Thus, if none of the five Democrats I liked advance to the final, my vote would transfer to her.
Without getting too deep in the weeds, it is far less likely the GOP would have nominated Trump in an internal primary with IRV, let alone, an open primary where Democrats could vote for Kasich as their third preference after Bernie and Hillary. Not to mention all those Stein and Johnson votes would have transferred to Hillary instead of being ‘wasted’ on ‘spoilers’. As the California example is showing us, along with the worldwide populist revolt against the establishment, it may start to be in the establishments own interests to open up election systems and allow for more cooperation, consensus, and true majority rule rather than undemocratic closed primaries and the spoiler effect marginalizing outside of the box candidacies.
Even making partisan races convert to IRV would have a far better effect on our system of government than a jungle primary. In Massachusetts the same dynamic is playing out in our contested Congressional races, which also currently limit independent and third party participation by forcing independents to pick a partisan ballot and keeping third party members out of the process entirely. It is likely the winner of the CD-3 race will be selected with a plurality of votes so low that a supermajority of the district selected somebody else. Ranked choice would also do a lot to keep the Capuano and Pressley race civil, since essentially you could vote for both candidates and just pick the one you like better to be your first overall. It would also keep it cheap, since the candidates would lose any incentive to run attack ads funded by outside interest groups.
Ranked choice would also help in our primary for Governor, since we could vote for all three candidates in the order we like the best. Thus my vote for Berwick last cycle would not have ‘spoiled’ a second choice preference for Grossman. A vote for Massie this cycle would not ‘spoil’ a second choice preference for Warren and even by forcing me to vote for Gonzalez third, if he ultimately wins I would know I could live with him (after all I voted for him too, even if I voted for him last) and that he had a true majority of the party behind him.