What About Moving to Nonpartisan Primaries?

What About Moving to Nonpartisan Primaries?
Tiani Coleman

As we get ready for primary elections, instead of just accepting the long-held tradition of partisan primaries, let’s ask ourselves if nonpartisan primaries might be a better way to conduct primary elections. George Washington warned us about the “mischiefs of the spirit of party,” yet we see that the party mechanism for manipulating power has won out. Now we find ourselves in a country deeply divided, and too polarized to make progress on difficult issues that have been plaguing us for years, and are only getting worse.

I’m an independent, not affiliated with a party, along with 41% of New Hampshire voters. Yet, when it comes time for the primary elections, we don’t get a say unless we pick a party ballot, which joins us to a party. Shouldn’t we be able to get a say in determinative elections without being forced to work within a party system? After all, we pay taxes that help fund the primary elections. And shouldn’t the electoral process be open enough that candidates who don’t want to be boxed into a party can have a real chance at running for office? Parties get to have their cake and eat it, too. They get to be officially labeled as private organizations, but enjoy the benefits of being public entities. They can exclude people who don’t belong to the club from getting a say in who they endorse. But they get to have their endorsement procedure be an essential step in the public electoral process, such that one and only one member of the private club gets to be on the general ballot. What a perfect way to amass and hold onto power! We’ve taken the first and most essential step in the public election process, and allowed it to be manipulated and controlled by private interest groups. This gives major parties an unfair advantage of extra exposure, credibility, and power.

New Hampshire Independent Voters are joining independents across the country in a “Voting Rights are Primary” campaign this year. We’ll hold a peaceful, informational picket in Manchester and elsewhere on Sept. 9, to raise awareness and inform the public about more fair and open nonpartisan primaries. In nonpartisan primaries, political parties may still organize, endorse, and advocate on behalf of candidates, but a party’s endorsement process would be wholly private, as it is for any other special interest group. As a true preliminary round for the general election, the people, not the parties, would determine which candidates advance to the general election. All candidates — from all party preferences to no party preference — would appear on the same primary ballot, voted upon by all primary voters. Those receiving the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election. Not only will this approach give more voters a meaningful say in elections, but it will help us think outside of the false dichotomy of the two-party system. We’ll have a greater ability to take on entrenched interests, as well. California’s relatively new top-two nonpartisan primary system has gotten positive reviews (like Washington’s). And we could allow more than the top-two vote-getters to advance, and/or use ranked choice voting. Let’s quit doing things the way they’ve always been done. Nonpartisan primaries will introduce more competition, more thoughtful, out-of-the-box solutions, and more cooperation among those with different viewpoints and perspectives. Let’s transcend party politics as George Washington hoped we would.

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