Thursday, December 3, 2020
Dec. 3, 2020

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In Our View: One More Top Two

Washington's system for primary voting is starting to catch on elsewhere

The Columbian
Published:

Californians have seen the light! It was a lantern waved by Washingtonians. Last Tuesday, 54 percent of California voters approved Proposition 14, which creates the same top two primary that 60 percent of voters in our state endorsed in 2004 and which has been OK’d by none other than the U.S. Supreme Court.

Starting next year in California, voters and not political parties will be in charge of primaries, and that’s the way it should be. Voters will consider all candidates, and the top two will advance — regardless of party affiliation — to the general election. Instead of serving as a intra-party nominating process (paid for by taxpayers), the top two primary is a winnowing process, the province of the public. Our state’s third top two primary is scheduled for Aug. 17, and the system has drawn widespread, bipartisan support.

Except for one group. Political party operatives hate it. Bashing the top two primary is one of the few things that Republican and Democratic party leaders have in common. This shared derision is explained in part by a recent Newsweek story analyzing the Californians’ decision: “The dance that all party candidates do — they play to the extremes of their base in the primary and then try to keep a straight face as they label themselves centrist for the general election — is no more. The backers of Prop. 14 figured that by eliminating primaries, candidates would have to be moderate from the beginning, making them more genuine and believable. Candidates will also have to cater to all voters, not just ones in their party.”

Those party officials in California even took to calling the top two primary the “jungle” primary because of its free-for-all nature. We prefer to call it the “people’s” primary.

With great indignation, the two parties’ leaders have fumed, “Why, we could wind up with two Republicans or two Democrats advancing to the general election! Egads!” To which we have editorially responded: And that would be bad because? Allowing all voters to advance the two candidates they like best would work against voters’ best interests in what way?

Prop. 14 passed in all but two of California’s 58 counties. Among its supporters was Washington’s secretary of state. Sam Reed was interviewed by several California news sources and wrote an op-ed for newspapers in that state. After Tuesday’s vote, Reed said in a written statement: “I feel certain that voters there will greatly enjoy this wide-open method of voting. It puts the voter in the driver’s seat. People want to select their favorite finalists, and not just the type of candidates who appeal to a more narrow partisan base.” In other words, Reed agrees with Newsweek’s assessment. “People are tired of narrow, rigid politics and they want officeholders who will be pragmatic problem-solvers,” he said.

What, though, will become of the irrational, bomb-throwing candidates? Bring ’em on! They’re still welcome to run for office, but be forewarned: Everyone is welcome to vote for or against them, notwithstanding party affiliation.

Another perspective was presented in a blog posting by Dave Ammons, communications director for Reed: “Essentially, two reform-minded Western states have abolished partisan nomination primaries that restrict voters to one party’s list of candidates.”

Reed thinks the top two primary will spread eastward like a prairie fire. Based on our state’s track record, we can’t argue with his enthusiasm.

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