Tag Archives: electoral reform

The Speakership Saga and the Need for Nonpartisan Primaries

For those of us concerned about the capacity of Congress to function on behalf of the American people, we should be glad that the House of Representatives finally has a new Speaker three weeks (and a day) after Kevin McCarthy was removed from the speakership by an unprecedented motion to vacate. But for those of us concerned about the extent to which the composition of Congress is genuinely representative of the voters who elect its members, the removal of McCarthy and his eventual replacement by Mike Johnson is confirmation that the nation’s electoral system urgently needs fundamental reform.

Specifically, the ordeal of the last few weeks demonstrates that the existing system of partisan primaries under current conditions of asymmetrical polarization–where Republicans have moved further to the right to the point that MAGA extremism is the dominant faction within the party–causes extreme Republicans to win their party’s primary against a more moderate Republican alternative and then, in a Republican-leaning district, defeat the Democrat in the general election. But a majority of all the district’s voters in the general election–Republicans, Democrats, and independents–would have preferred the more moderate Republican candidate defeated in the primary over the MAGA extremist sent to Congress to represent the district.

Arizona’s second congressional district illustrates this problem and how it affects the House’s current deficiencies. In last year’s midterm elections, a Trump-endorsed MAGA extremist—Eli Crane—won the Republican primary with only 36% of the vote in a race with seven candidates. The runner-up with 24%, Water Blackman, was a more traditional Republican serving in the state’s legislature who, unlike Crane, repudiated Trump’s election denialism

In the general election, Crane beat the Democrat, 54% to 46%. Had Blackman been the Republican nominee, he almost certainly would have done even better, pulling some more moderate voters away from the Democrat. In any event, it’s clear that a majority of all the district’s voters—Democrats, independents, and Republicans—would have preferred Blackman to be their representative in Congress rather than Crane. 

Yet Mr. Crane went to Washington, where he became one of the eight Republicans who voted to vacate Kevin McCarthy from the speakership and thus precipitated the governance crisis in the House. If Blackman had been the one sent to Congress to represent the district, there is no reason to think that he would have participated in this obstructionist stunt.

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“Can deliberation cure our divisions about democracy?”

Boston Globe opinion essay by James Fishkin and Larry Diamond describing the results of their deliberative poll on various electoral reforms. The whole essay is a “must read”; here’s a bit of it:

“Partisan differences seem immovable, some say even “calcified.” However, in our recent national experiment “America in One Room: Democratic Reform” we find a very different picture. When Americans take the time to talk to each other in a civil, evidence-based way, they learn to listen to each other and often change their views dramatically, depolarizing across partisan divides. This Helena project shows thatAmericans’views are not so deeply entrenched but very much open to reason. …

“When our nationally representative sample of 600 (selected by NORC at the University of Chicago) deliberated for a weekend about these issues, Republicans often moved significantly toward initially Democrat positions and Democrats sometimes moved just as substantially toward initially Republican positions. The changes were all consonant with basic democratic values, such as that everyone’s vote should count and that our elections need to be administered in a nonpartisan way.

“Only 30 percent of Republicans initially supported providing access to voter registration online, but after deliberations, Republicans moved to majority support, joining Democrats (who overwhelmingly supported it at 81 percent). Republicans abandoned their view that “increasing opportunities for voter registration would open up more opportunities for voter fraud.” The percentage of Republicans believing that dropped 26 points (from 56 percent to only 30 percent). Republicans similarly abandoned their opposition to restoring federal and state voting rights to convicted felons upon their release from prison. Republican support for restoring voting rights for felons increased dramatically, from 35 percent to 58 percent.

“By contrast, only a minority of Democrats (44 percent) initially supported the mostly Republican proposal for each state to require its voting jurisdictions to conduct an audit of a random sample of ballots “to ensure that the votes are accurately counted.” However, after deliberation Democrats increased their support by 14 points to 58 percent (joining Republicans who supported it even more strongly at 75 percent). Getting an accurate count was a goal broadly shared, and audits with a random sample seemed a practical method of assuring everyone about the results. The same goal was served by another, initially Republican, proposal “that all voting machines produce a paper record of the vote that the voter verifies and then drops in a ballot box.” Democratic support rose from 44 percent to 55 percent, with Republican support staying at over 70 percent. …

“Deliberators were asked about ranked choice voting for primaries and general elections for Congress, state legislatures, and local elections. In all six cases, there was an overall majority in support of ranked choice voting after deliberation. While the weakest support came from Republicans, for most ranked choice voting options at least a third of Republicans were favorable. For the option of “final four or five voting” (using a nonpartisan primary to choose the top few candidates to advance to a general election using ranked choice voting), Republican support increased after deliberation from 32 percent to 43 percent. There was general dissatisfaction both before and after with our current “first past the post” method of conducting elections (after deliberation, only 33 percent of the overall sample wanted to keep it, but that included about 50 percent of Republicans).”

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