Monday, June 14, 2010

Security Blanket Primaries

There is been some noise across the internet after California voters passed Prop 14, which creates a blanket primary system (some people call this a open primary, but it is not an open primary; the appropriate name is a blanket primary or top-two primary) similar to those used by Louisiana and once used by Washington State:
Proposition 14 provides for a "voter-nominated primary election" for each state elective office and congressional office in California. Voters can vote in the primary election for any candidate for a congressional or state elective office without regard to the political party affiliations of either the candidate or the voter. Candidates can choose whether or not to have their political party affiliation displayed on the ballot.
Paul Burka asks on his blog if Texas should adopt a similar system: Should Texas adopt Prop 14? Like those who argued in favour of Prop 14 in California, he suggest that such a primary will reduce partisanship and lead to more moderate candidates being elected. However, according to FairVote.org, the primary process in Louisiana has not lead to less partisanship, and I think just looking at the state, one could determine quite easily that partisanship is not lessened by this process.

In relation to the contention that this process produces more moderate candidates is the idea that this provides voters with more choice. A quick look through Louisiana's election results belies the idea that there is more choice. Many of these districts show choices between 2 Republicans or 2 Democrats (e.g., look under MultiParish for November 4th 2008). With the way redistricting always seems to play out in Texas, it is likely voters will see similar choices, i.e., voters will have a choice of one or the other Republican, or one or the other Democrat. How significant do you think the ideological difference be between two people in the same party? Will Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, etc. vote in that race if their options are that limited.

The other argument - not mentioned by Burka - is that this process increases turnout. Comparing the Louisiana turnout in the primary and general elections to Texas, one could make the argument it increases turnout. However, the blanket primary was introduced in Louisiana in 1978, and I do not have data to compare voter turnout between those time periods. However, the forumla does not completely hold: in 2008 a larger percentage voted in the TX primaries than the LA primaries (33.2% v 28.7% - this was the same year that LA's Congressional elections returned to a closed primary system, which could have had an effect).

As this system is essentially like our current special elections in Texas, I don't see this reducing the partisanship or polarization in the Texas Legislature (and there is no evidence that it has anywhere else either), and there are better ways to increase voter turnout.

Some more resources on this issue:

The Vanishing Voter by Thomas Patterson
Fixing Elections by Steven Hill

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