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Five “Early Successes” of California’s (Top-Two) Open Primaries

Posted by jesse shayne on October 24, 2017 at 4:22 PM

Americans everywhere are fed up with the state of politics. At the federal level, political paralysis and polarization prevent Congress from solving pressing issues every day. At the state level, it can be just as frustrating. Yet, while polarization and paralysis impede the progress of many state legislatures, one in particular seems to be heading in the right direction and actually getting things done -- California.

Earlier this year, California passed a bipartisan cap and trade emissions bill -- something virtually unthinkable for congress. The “bipartisan” component of this legislation is worth reiterating; stakeholders reached across party lines, came together, and compromised to pass this bill.

How was this possible? It’s simple: California’s voters and legislature recognized that a fundamentally flawed electoral system was the root source of paralysis and polarization. So they changed it.

In 2008, voters passed Prop 11, which handed redistricting over to an independent commission. In 2012, California passed Prop 14, which established nonpartisan, top-two primaries for all federal and state elections. This system allows California’s independent and unaffiliated voters -- that’s 24% of the state’s voting eligible population -- to participate in all congressional and state primaries, with the top two candidates advancing to the general election. The system has quickly propelled California from a symbol of legislative dysfunction to a blueprint for successful electoral reform.

How do we know the system working? Open Primaries answered this in a research study with political scientist Omar H. Ali on the “early successes” of California’s top-two, nonpartisan primary system. The study uncovered how California’s system has gradually been chipping away at polarization and paralysis. While it’s only been five years since California first began using top-two, open primaries, the benefits reaped from the system are already making themselves clear. Here are five of them.

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Colorado’s Open Primaries Are a Triumph of the People Over Parties

Posted by jesse shayne on October 10, 2017 at 4:25 PM

At long last, Colorado became the most recent state to open its primaries to Independent and unaffiliated voters. This is a huge milestone, made even more momentous by the party obstruction that voters ultimately overcame. In the end, Colorado’s success was more than a triumph of democracy -- it was one of the people over the parties.

It all started last November, when voters in Colorado successfully passed two statewide ballot measures. The first, Proposition 107, replaced Colorado’s presidential caucuses with open primaries. The second was Proposition 108, which opened the primaries for state and federal races to Colorado’s largest voting bloc -- the state’s 1.3 million (and counting) independent voters.

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New Harvard Business School Report Says Open Primaries Can Help Fix a Failing Political System

Posted by jesse shayne on October 07, 2017 at 4:23 PM

With Congress’ failure to pass bipartisan legislation on any pressing issue, from healthcare to immigration reform, it’s clearer than ever that gridlock and polarization are derailing our political system and obstructing progress. Pragmatic, bipartisan problem-solving has given way to political theatrics and partisan division, which oversimplify issues and rarely produce the solutions we need to move forward.

This problem is urgent, and was recently detailed by Harvard Business School in its insightful new report, “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America.” by Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter. The report compares the current political system to a failing “industry,” in which the two major parties function as a duopoly, thereby intentionally enforcing their differences and raising barriers to entry for new competition -- particularly more moderate candidates who might be more willing to compromise. These barriers include closed primary laws.

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New York Primary is Uncompetitive and Undemocratic

Posted by jesse shayne on September 26, 2017 at 9:55 AM

On September 12, New York held its primary elections, and once again, a quarter of the state’s voting population -- the 3.2 million Independent and unaffiliated voters who refuse to join a party -- were barred from participating. Unsurprisingly, multiple seats went uncontested, with no Republican primary for the mayoral election.

In the race for mayor, incumbent Bill de Blasio easily won the Democratic primary with 75% of the vote. He’ll go on to face Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis, who ran uncontested and thus advanced to the general election. Not a single incumbent New York City Council member lost their seat, and the majority of Republican NYC Council candidates ran unopposed. The three non-Democratic candidates for Public Advocate ran uncontested, and in the race for Manhattan DA, the incumbent won uncontested.

Uncompetitive elections are nothing new for New York. In its 2016 State Senate election, about half the seats were uncontested or virtually uncontested. The 2016 State Assembly election was even less competitive, with 36% of seats going uncontested, and another 21% virtually uncontested.

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Election Reform Experts Gather in New Mexico

Posted by jesse shayne on September 25, 2017 at 2:29 PM

On September 9th, election reform experts from across New Mexico gathered in Las Cruces to discuss how New Mexico should reform its electoral system to increase competition and make elected officials more accountable to their constituents.

The event was organized by Abraham Sanchez, a board member of New Mexico Open Primaries who is employed by the Dona Ana County Clerk’s Bureau of Elections. Panelists included Dr. Christa Slaton of New Mexico State University, Dona Ana County Clerk Scott Krahling, New Mexico Open Primaries Founder Bob Perls, and New Mexico State Senator Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces.

Over 50 people attended the event, and enjoyed a lively hour-long Q&A with the panelists, who generally agreed on a number of reforms that are crucial to New Mexico, including: Open primaries, free and fair ballot access, independent redistricting, consolidation of local and county elections, same-day voter registration, and automatic voter registration.

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New Jersey Voters Not Satisfied With Closed Primaries

Posted by jesse shayne on July 17, 2017 at 3:20 PM

As a born and bred Jersey girl, it’s only natural that I’m stubborn about my politics. My friends and I all have ideas about candidates, issues, and New Jersey government. However, when we turned 18 and we could finally express our opinions through voting, we were met by pollsters who told us that we had to affiliate with a party in order to vote. I remember being caught off guard and enraged at the fact that I had to join a party I did not align with just so I could vote. I’m still enraged. But I’m not alone.

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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Voters

Posted by jesse shayne on June 01, 2017 at 11:51 AM

On Monday, May 15th, the Supreme Court upheld the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal's decision that open primaries do not infringe upon a political party’s freedom of association, and that the burden of proof is on the parties to demonstrate if they do. This effectively keeps the door open for open primaries in Hawaii and Montana, where they were being challenged, and will likely protect open primaries in many other states.

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Five Reasons We Need Open Primaries

Posted by jesse shayne on May 25, 2017 at 5:08 PM

26.3 million independent voters, including almost half of all millennial voters, were barred from voting in presidential primaries in 2016. Millions more registered Democrats and Republicans were prevented from voting for the candidate of their choice. The result? Recent polling shows 70% of all Americans now support open primaries.


Closed primaries are the most rampant form of voter suppression of the 21st century. Now, more than ever, we need our democracy to be open and fair -- representative of all Americans, not just party extremists. Here are five reasons why we need open primaries, right now:

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Faces of Open Primaries: Queens, NY

Posted by jesse shayne on April 27, 2017 at 10:11 AM

As an independent, I've become increasingly convinced that those of us who are most discouraged by our options in the voting booth ought most especially to vote, if we're to have any chance of interrupting the vicious cycle of the most polarized electorate putting the most polarized candidates in office.

In the 2016 election cycle, among a deeply flawed set of presidential candidates on both sides, I eventually settled on one I could vote for in reasonably good conscience: Ohio governor John Kasich. Living in Arizona at the time, where limited open primary laws do not extend to the presidential race, I considered registering Republican, weighing the ironic trade-off of a dishonest party affiliation for the ability to cast an honest vote, based not on the fear of victory for the "other side" but on who I actually thought would make a good president...

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