“What surviving GOP impeachment backers have in common: Alternative primaries”

Aaron Blake for The Washington Post, contemplating Lisa Murkowski’s potential survival against her Trump-backed challenger because of Alaska’s new Top Four with RCV system, observes that the only two House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment to survive did so in a “top two” primary election. From this admittedly “small sample size,” Blake entertains the possibility that these alternative electoral systems–in contrast to the conventional method of partisan primaries followed by a plurality-winner general election–may be a factor in enabling pro-democracy Republicans to withstand Trump’s attack.

In drawing attention to Blake’s piece, I wish to note that its underlying premise is precisely why I argued in a Washington Post column published two months after the January 6 insurrection (on March 5, 2021) that “Congress should require its members to be elected by a majority of votes.” My point was–and remains–that states should be permitted to choose between different forms of majority-winner systems, like Alaska’s new Top Four with RCV or the older “top two” system used in California and Washington State, but Congress should exercise its constitutional authority to regulate congressional elections to render off-limits the currently prevailing system, which significantly exacerbates the threat of “Big Lie” election denialism and the kind of authoritarian-sympathizing extremism that led to the January 6 insurrection and continues to increasingly endanger American democracy. This kind of majority-winner requirement is the single simplest reform that Congress could enact that would strengthen democracy against the ever-escalating attack it is facing. (It is no substitute for Electoral Count Act reform, which is necessary to protect the specific Electoral College features of presidential elections from potential subversion, but a majority-winner rule would help populate Congress with members from both parties who are predisposed to resist subversion and to uphold authentic results despite election denialist claims.)

I expanded the basic argument set forth in the March 5, 2021 Washington Post column in a law review article recently published the Lewis & Clark Law Review: Requiring Majority Winners for Congressional Elections: Harnessing Federalism to Combat Extremism.

It is obvious that Congress has taken no steps to consider, much less adopt, this kind of majority-winner requirement–at least not yet. I wonder whether the explosive, and dangerous, backlash to the Justice Department’s search of Mar-a-Lago might cause enough members of Congress finally to recognize the need for this kind of rule. Last week proved once again that elected Republicans must remain subservient to Trump, no matter what the facts or evidence may be, as long as the current electoral system of partisan primaries followed by plurality-winner general elections stays in place. I would think Mitch McConnell, along with enough GOP Senators to overcome a filibuster, would wish to adopt a simple federalism-consistent measure that would liberate their party, as well as the country, from the stranglehold of Trump’s demagoguery.

To be sure, there are some places (like Wyoming) where a majority-winner rule would make no difference, because the MAGA movement there has majority support of the electorate. But in many other places, a MAGA candidate would not be the “Condorcet winner” in a multi-candidate election, and the MAGA candidate is able to win because the divide-and-conquer capability presented by a partisan primary followed by a plurality-winner general election. Requiring states to replace this democracy-endangering system with whatever form of a majority-winner rule each state prefers–“top two”, various forms of RCV, or otherwise–would ameliorate this risk considerably.

You don’t need to believe me on this point. Read Aaron Blake’s piece and decide for yourself what to think.

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