Category Archives: primaries

Lawsuit Challenging New Jersey’s Obfuscating Primary Ballot Design to Proceed

U.S. District Court denied seven motions to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the design of New Jersey’s primary ballots yesterday. The case seeks to end the influence county party leaders exert over ballot placement. Among other things, the suit challenges a provision that allows candidates for different offices, who request that their names be grouped together, to be placed in more favorable primary ballot slots–arguing that the practice violates the United States Constitution. The essence of the challenge is nicely captured by this video comparing New Jersey’s ballot design to a reasonable ballot design.

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Does California’s Top-Two Primary Create Incentives to Boost a Weaker Opponent to Run Against in Second Round?

California Politico rounds up the evidence:

In the years since California adopted a top-two primary system — which allows the highest vote-getters to advance to the general regardless of party — campaigns have perfected the art of strategically elevating the opponent they’d most like to face in November. That often takes the form of “attack” ads that actually serve to elevate a desired, further-right foe among his conservative base. Another cycle has brought a fresh round of machinations and accusations. Depending on whom you ask, it’s the type of disingenuous and cynical tactic that toxifies politics for most voters — or it’s just savvy strategy.

Republicans gathered yesterday to decryDemocratic Assembly member Kevin Cooley’s move on this front. The moderate Democrat looks vulnerable to a challenge from Capitol GOP chief of staff Joshua Hoover in a D+5 district during a Republican-tilting year. But a mailer from Team Cooley doesn’t mention Hoover. It spotlights Republican Jeffrey Perrine as “a pro-Trump patriot who calls himself an ‘anti-establishment’ conservative,” noting Perrine got booted from a local GOP organization without clarifying it was after Perrine was outed as a Proud Boy. Cooley “is playing with fire,” Hoover warned. He is “better than this,” Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher added.

Allies of Attorney General Rob Bonta are following a similar script.Few analysts think conservative Republican attorney Eric Early is best positioned to ride public safety concerns to unseating Bonta — no-party-preference Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert is seen as the bigger threat, or Republican former U.S. Attorney Nathan Hochman. Hence a labor-funded, pro-Bonta PAC spending nearly $750,000 so far attacking Early, including with spots that call Early a “Trump Republican” who will “end Obamcare” and for whom “protecting the Second Amendment is everything.” Another pro-Bonta PAC has run radio spots nominally stumping for Bonta while characterizing Early as the “pro-Trump, pro-guns, pro-life” candidate.

So it goes. A primer on earlier iterations: Gov. Gavin Newsom “assailing” Republican John Cox in 2018 for standing “with Donald Trump and the NRA,” sidestepping well-funded Democratic challenger Antonio Villaraigosa and going on to crush Cox in November. National Democrats in 2018 “attacking” Assembly member Rocky Chavez for backing a gas tax increase, after which Republican BOE member Diane Harkey made the general and lost by 13 points. A 2020 mailer promoting an obscure Republican in the open, heavily Democratic CA-53. Real estate players spending around $175,000 in the last primary boosting the scandal-beset Democratic former Assembly member Steve Fox, who in November didn’t come close to knocking GOP Assembly member Tom Lackey from a D+11 seat.

California doesn’t hold a monopoly on this strategy. Pennsylvania Democrat Josh Shapiro just deployed it effectively in the state’s gubernatorial race, funding ads that helped get hoped-for Republican Doug Mastriano into the general by “blasting” him as “one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters.” But the particular vagaries of the top-two system have helped make it a campaign season fixture as reliable as recycling bins overflowing with mailers.

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“Inside the Republican push to stop Trump’s ‘vendetta tour’ in Georgia”

This Washington Post article is much bigger than the headline. It is really about the Republican Governors Associations’ mission to challenge Trump’s hold over the party, and Governors Associations have long been a formidable force in American politics.

Although there are many reasons that Madison’s prediction that ambition would counter ambition as officials sought to protect their office repeatedly falls short, this article did remind me that, in the last few years, the most effective pockets of resistance (especially those within the party) have had different institutional interests–federal judges, civil servants, and, once again, state Governors.

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Intraparty Fights Taken to Court

Just a few days before Idaho’s May 17 primaries, Republicans took their internal fights to court.

“In the virtual hearing [last] Friday afternoon, Fourth District Court Judge Jason Scott heard arguments from intertwined Republican organizations — one suing the other, days before a primary election that pits establishment Republicans against ultra-conservative Republicans.

Scott ruled at the end of the two-hour hearing that the Bonneville County GOP had indeed overstepped its bounds by endorsing candidates in state-level primary, . . . saying it had determined those candidates were true Republicans.”

The county GOP’s actions violated party rules and election laws.

In the wake of the victory, Idaho GOP Chairman, is reported to have said, “‘While we’re pleased with the court’s decision, it’s regrettable that we were forced to take this action through the judiciary[.]’ . . . ‘At the end of the day, this is about party unity. The Republican Party needs to speak with one unified voice and the state party rules were put in place to ensure that happens. Rules and laws exist to help us navigate when we disagree.’”

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“Democrats Weigh Shake-Up to Presidential Primary Calendar”


New Jersey is billing itself as a “microcosm of the country.” Washington State is highlighting its diverse communities — and robust vote-by-mail process. And as Iowa’s status as home to the first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest looks increasingly tenuous, other Midwestern states see an opening.

Just over two years after Iowa’s disastrous Democratic caucuses, in which officials struggled to deliver results, party officials across the country are increasingly weighing whether to pursue their own early-state primary slots — a dynamic set to rapidly accelerate.

On Wednesday, members of the Democratic National Committee’s powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to begin an application process that will determine which states host the first presidential nominating contests in the 2024 cycle. The outcome may overhaul how the party’s presidential nominee is chosen and reorder which constituencies have the greatest influence.

The resolution adopted on Wednesday laid out a framework for applicants, and committee leaders also detailed a timeline for assessing applications, which are due by June 3. Committee recommendations regarding up to five early-voting states — an increase from the traditional four — are expected in July, with final approval set for a vote at the Democrats’ summer meeting.

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“Jan. 6 votes show the link between primary system and more extreme views in Congress”

The Fulcrum:

Only hours after the riot of Jan. 6, 2021, with the calls to “stop the steal” still reverberating under the Capitol Rotunda, 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted to oppose the valid electoral votes sent from Arizona and Pennsylvania, in effect endorsing the rallying cry of the insurrection.

Seventy-two Republicans voted the other way, supporting the counting of the electoral votes. What are the important characteristics that distinguish those who objected from those who did not? Some are predictable. Members may have felt more pressure to object if they came from districts and states that voted more heavily for Donald Trump. Members with fewer years in Congress objected at a higher rate, perhaps with a greater need than more veteran colleagues to make a name for themselves.

A new analysis finds another unexpected characteristic many objectors have in common, one that points to a structural danger in our election system. Objectors were more likely to have entered Congress without majority support in their initial primary. This insight arises from an Election Reformers Network database tracking members’ paths to Congress, and in particular how they fared in the primary election the year they entered Congress, before the power of incumbency kicked in.

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“What’s next for the Iowa caucuses? ‘Odds are stacked against us,’ state’s Democratic chair says”

Brianne Pfannenstiel in the Des Moines Register:

Iowa Democrats are preparing to “fight like hell” to make their best — and possibly final — case for their first-in-the-nation caucuses as members of the national party set an aggressive schedule aimed at revamping the presidential primary calendar by fall.

The piece also looks back at the dispute and federal lawsuit ahead of the timing of the 1984 caucuses.

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Trump Pressures Wyoming Legislators to Change Primary Law to Prevent Democratic Crossover Voting for Liz Cheney in Primary


Former President Donald Trump and his allies have been privately lobbying Wyoming lawmakers to change the state’s election laws as part of an effort to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

On Thursday, Trump endorsed Wyoming legislation that would prevent crossover voting in a primary election. Were the law to pass, Democrats, Republicans, or independents would no longer be able to switch party affiliation on the day of the state’s primary to vote for a candidate in another party.

The bill, introduced by Republican state Sen. Bo Biteman, is part of a push by some Republicans in the state to oust Cheney by blocking Democrats from switching parties to support her in her upcoming election against Trump-endorsed congressional candidate, Harriet Hageman.

Behind the scenes, Trump and Club for Growth’s David McIntosh have both personally called Wyoming’s Republican governor, Mark Gordon, to encourage him to back the bill, according to two people familiar with the calls.

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“How Liz Cheney could force voters to defend our foundational principles”

From Barney Frank, on how Liz Cheney could bypass a Republican primary and compete in the general election:

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and the Democratic leadership have already done American democracy a major service by their mutually respectful cooperation in investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Their demonstration that political leaders can jointly defend foundational principles while differing sharply on other issues is invaluable.

It could also be the basis for a great opportunity for American voters: the chance to express their support for the integrity of the democratic process regardless of their views on any other questions.

This can be accomplished with a two-step process. First, Cheney runs for reelection, not in the primary to become the official Republican nominee but as a principled independent in the general election who retains her personal Republican allegiance. Second, Wyoming Democrats do not support a candidate to oppose her.

The result would be a November contest in which all citizens of Wyoming could choose between two candidates who are aligned on the broad range of public policy issues and differ largely on the question of Donald Trump’s assault on the electoral process. Cheney can make clear that if elected, she will not vote for a Democratic speaker or change her position on any substantive questions. This will make it possible for other Republican leaders who share her principled commitment to campaign for her even though she is not the official nominee.

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Oral argument in Alaska RCV case

As Rick blogged earlier today, the Alaska Supreme Court heard oral argument in an important case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s new electoral system, which has a nonpartisan primary that sends the top four candidates to the general election, in which a ranked-choice ballot is used to identify the winner (using the instant runoff voting computational method). Here’s video of the oral argument. [Update: at 41:45, counsel for the state encourages the court to read the law review article written by Rick and his co-author Michael Parson. One justice perhaps was a bit skeptical in questioning.]

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The Big Lie & the Primary Problem

This new piece in The Washington Post, as well as several others including one in the N.Y. Times based on Jeremy Peters’ forthcoming book, confirms for me the connection between (1) the entrenchment of Trump’s false claim about the 2020 election being stolen and (2) the structural flaw of the existing plurality-winner electoral system that enables Trump to “primary” Republicans he considers disloyal and thereby prevent them from being viable general-election candidates in November. Given the initial response to January 6 by Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, followed by the snapback loyalty to Trump once he had proven his ongoing connection with the base and therefore his capacity to destroy in a primary any Republican disloyal to him, the conclusion to draw is that Republicans who might have been willing to speak out against the Big Lie if there weren’t this threat of being “primaried” quickly realized they needed to hold their tongues if they want to keep their careers.

Other Republicans eager for Trump’s endorsement in a primary starting embracing the Big Lie even if they otherwise would have been disinclined to do so. The Post’s description of Senate candidate Bernie Moreno is illustrative of this. Another Ohio Senate candidate, J.D. Vance, could also serve as an example, given the transformation of his views on Trump in his quest for the GOP nomination.

The upshot is that I’m even more convinced than I was a year ago that if we are going to solve the Big Lie problem, we must solve the “primary problem“. We need a lot more Republicans, besides Liz Cheney (who faces her own threat of being primaried by Trump), to denounce the Big Lie. But that’s not going to happen without structural reform that removes the effectiveness of this threat. Structural conditions have enabled the Big Lie to take hold over the last year, and thus there will need to be structural reform in order to undo the perniciousness of the Big Lie.

If every incumbent Republican had the benefit of Alaska’s new electoral system that Lisa Murkowski has, every incumbent Republican would be in a different posture with respect to the threat of being primaried than most currently are. Alaska’s system isn’t a perfect panacea for reasons I’ve explored elsewhere, but it is far better at counteracting the threat of the Big Lie than the plurality-winner system that operates in most states. Thus, as we reflect on how deeply ingrained the Big Lie has become over the last year and endeavor to find a solution, we can’t ignore the role that the existing plurality-winner electoral system has played (which enables primaries to have their effect of eliminating candidates who would be preferred by general-election voters) and thus must move to the center of the electoral-reform agenda the possibility of structural alternatives.

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Could bipartisan democracy-protection have worked? Could it still?

There has been skepticism voiced by some about my suggestion that, after January 6, Democrats in Congress should have pursued a strategy of finding at least ten GOP Senators to support the kind of structural electoral reform, like a majority-winner rule, that would help protect the traditional wing of the Republican Party–and thus the nation’s system of democratic competition–from Trump and Trumpism.

While it’s always prudent to avoid excessive optimism about the possibility of electoral reform, especially given the predisposition of incumbents to stick with the system in which they won their own elections, why is it unreasonable to think that a deal might have been possible if focused on the specific idea of helping the traditional GOP avoid a hostile takeover from the MAGA movement? It would have been in the rational self-interest of traditional Republicans, like Senator Roy Blunt (ranking member of the Rules Committee) and even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to be open to that kind of conversation if pursued by Democrats in good faith.

Moreover, it would have been easy to point to Alaska as an example of how structural electoral reform can help traditional Republicans from attack by Trump. Lisa Murkowski is in a much better position to survive Trump’s attack on her than Liz Cheney, for example, for the simple reason that Alaska has a adopted a different electoral system (“top 4 with RCV”) than the conventional system that Wyoming has (a partisan primary followed by a plurality-winner general election). If Democrats had attempted to work with Murkowski to educate other traditional Republicans on how this kind of electoral reform could benefit their brand of Republicanism–indeed, protect it from threatened extinction at the hands of Trump and his acolytes–a total of ten GOP Senators might have become open to the idea.

Continue reading Could bipartisan democracy-protection have worked? Could it still?
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