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Scott Colom: More voter choice

 

Scott Colom

 

If you watch politics closely and study the candidates with care, you walk through the entrance to the polling station with eagerness to cast your vote. Yet, even before marking the first ballot, a voter confronts the head-scratching dilemma of deciding which primary ballot to pick up. There are two tables, but you can only go to one. 

 

This can be a hard choice. In the statewide races, Democrats didn''t have a candidate running for lieutenant governor, one of the most powerful elected offices in the state. Thus, voting in the Democratic primary means a voter didn''t have a voice in choosing the leader of the state senate. That''s not the best form of representative government.  

 

But, if a voter decided to vote in the Republican primary, they were stuck with the races in that ballot. And, if you live in District 4, you couldn''t vote for your county supervisor, since only Democrats are running in that race. Or, if you''re a fan of Supervisor Leroy Brooks or Chancery Clerk Lisa Younger Neese, forget about voting for either of them; they qualified as Democrats.  

 

Voters have to choose political party even for races that have almost nothing to do with political ideology. As a practicing lawyer and interim justice court judge, I have witnessed what is needed from a good county prosecutor, (and can attest to the high quality of the one we''re losing in Tim Hudson). It doesn''t have much to do with whether the person is a Democrat or Republican. Instead, we want a county prosecutor with the integrity to tell his best friend to pay a ticket, rather than request it be dismissed. But, if the candidate you believe has that type of integrity qualified in the other party, you''re out of luck, not allowed to vote for him or her.  

 

To resolve this dilemma, several states have adopted open primaries. Open primaries force all the candidates to run in one race, and allows voters to select a candidate irrespective of party. The two candidates with the highest vote totals then face each other in the general election, unless a candidate got a majority of the vote the first time. Supporters of this approach argue that it decreases the partisanship, because voters can vote across party lines, and increases voter choice.  

 

Critics of open primaries say this circumvents the purpose of the primary system, which is to allow members of a party the power to select a standard bearer, and therefore only members of that party should vote. Additionally, critics claim open primaries increase the possibility of unfair vote splitting. For instance, two candidates from the same party could make it to the run-off election because the other party''s votes were split between too many candidates.  

 

I haven''t decided my position in this debate and want to study more about how the open primary system works in other states. Also, there may be other ways to address the limitations of party primaries, such as removing party labels from more local offices, as letter writer Cameron Triplett recently recommended in The Dispatch. Either way, every voter should be able to choose the candidate they feel will best represent them, even if sometimes those candidates are in different political parties.

 

Scott Colom is a local attorney.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment richwinger commented at 8/4/2011 7:39:00 PM:

The only three states that have used this system are Louisiana, Washington, and a few special elections this year in California. Louisiana has by far the most experience with it. Louisiana's experience, and also Washington state's, shows that the chief effect of this "top-two" system is to make it even easier than in a normal system for incumbents to get re-elected.

Louisiana used it for congressional elections 1978-2006. In all those 30 years, for both houses of Congress from Louisiana, only once did an incumbent lose (except in 1992 when in 2 districts, incumbents had to run against each other due to redistricting). But when Louisiana switched to a normal system in 2008, two incumbents lost; and in 2010, another incumbent lost.

Washington state used the top-two system in 2008 and 2010. Both times, no incumbent member of Congress from Washington lost, even though nationally those were both very volatile years.

 

Article Comment zenreaper commented at 8/5/2011 1:39:00 PM:

Another side effect of open primaries is that one party can control who runs in the OTHER party. For example, Republican voters could vote in the Democratic primary, increasing the chances of a WEAKER Democratic candidate, thereby bolstering THEIR candidate in the general election.

 

Article Comment frank commented at 8/5/2011 2:04:00 PM:

Dhhhh. Go back and read it again zen.

 

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