AN ELECTION REFORM THAT MIGHT WORK

Warnock

Georgia’s new United States Senator Ralph Warnock : elected via an all-party (and thus no party) all-candidate preliminary followed by a top-two runoff.

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After last year’s well-deserved rejection of the trap called “ranked choice voting,” it might seem that Massachusetts election reform has nowhere to go. Not so. There is, in my. view, one reform that might just do the job: an all-candidate, non partisan first round followed by a runoff of the top two candidates if none receives 50 percent in the preliminary. This is how they do it in Georgia, and by which voters were able to nominate, and then elect, two Democratic US senators. I would also follow on part of the Nebraska example and make membership in the two legislative bodies nonpartisan. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature. That part I would not adopt here.)

Here is my argument :

( 1 ) Political party primaries leave a candidate defenseless against dirty tricks and smears. When Democrats unleashed a holy hell smear against Justice Kavanaugh — one that the Democratic activist base had made its top cause at that time — he had the power of a political party, the Republican, to defend him and fight back — and ultimately to defat the smear. In a party primary, the smeared candidate has no such institutional defense force. We see it in the Republican party, as well, as Congresspeople and Senators who voted to impeach or convict Mr. Trump have been censured and harassed for their vote. A no-party first round, followed by an equally no-party runoff, would detoxify the power of activist-base smear campaigns.

( 2 ) Our municipal elections here in Massachusetts are no-party runoffs. Although many Mayor campaigns become really rough, full of passion and mutual brickbat, they at least do not add the toxicity of partisan zealotry to the mix. Every voter, of whatever partisan persuasion, or none oat all, casts the same one vote on the same ballot. Furthermore, as at-large Council elections elect multiple Councillors — voters elect three, four, six, even nine — no candidate with any sense in his head smears any other because every candidate wants a voter’s second, third, eighth vote for herself.

( 3 ) Political parties are still free to organize and to make their voice heard, but such party voice is only one among a great many voices equalized in a no-party election system. As in Massachusetts both major political parties lack unity and represent only a minor portion of all our voters — 60 percent of us belong to no party — there is no policy reason why the parties should be institutionally favored over any candidate or all candidates. The small numbers enrolled in each of our two parties should not be able to enjoy easier access to a general election ballot than no-party candidates. In most party primaries, maybe 15 percent of the eligible voters — enrolled party members as well as those no-party voters who care to take a primary ballot — usually participate. This has two bad effects : first, it gives activists inordinate power over the result and thus over campaign smears; and second, it elevates candidates who spend their time within the partisan bubble as opposed to among the entire voter community which the winner will represent.

I welcoem your thoughts and suggestions.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere