Political Reforms to Combat Extremism

Here’s my latest NYT piece, which endorses Alaska’s Top-Four primary structure, a reform the Alaska Supreme Court recently upheld. My piece is along similar lines to those in Ned Foley’s Washington Post op-ed on the potential of the new Alaskan model to increase the likelihood that candidates with the broadest appeal, rather than more factional candidates, will be able to win elections. Here’s an excerpt from my piece today:

This reform aims to increase the likelihood that candidates with the broadest appeal to voters, rather than more factional candidates, will win the election. In a traditional primary, in which many candidates can split the vote, factional candidates can prevail by drawing, say, just 25 percent of the vote. Because factional candidates often hold more extreme views, this reality helps fuel dysfunction in American politics.

In a recent book, “Rejecting Compromise: Legislators’ Fear of Primary Voters,” a group of political scientists found that “legislators believe that primary voters are much more likely to punish them for compromising than general election voters or donors.” Incumbents in safe seats often embrace more extreme positions to avoid facing challengers in primaries. And some moderate incumbents who might have broad appeal in a general election are now retiring rather than competing in primaries they are likely to lose to ideological extremists….

Some political scientists worry that while the political parties can still loudly endorse, support and campaign for the candidates they prefer in Alaska, that might not be enough to adequately inform voters without the additional party imprimatur that follows from winning a traditional primary.

But all election systems have both advantages and disadvantages. And in our era, one of the highest priorities in election reform must be reducing the influence of extremism in our politics.

Despite all the attention national voting-rights debates receive, most political reform takes place at the state level — especially in states, like Alaska, where voters can bypass legislatures and vote directly on reform. More states, localities and even political parties are adopting alternative forms of voting in an effort to reward candidates with broader electoral appeal.

The political makeup of these areas ranges from blue to purple to red. Signatures in Nevada are now being gathered to qualify a ballot measure for this fall that would create an election system similar to Alaska’s. (That proposal would establish a top-five primary.)…

Other states would do well to pay attention to whether the reforms in Alaska and other states and cities do a better job of giving candidates with the broadest appeal to voters a good chance to actually get elected.

Share this: