Posted by Samantha Serrano on August 06, 2015 at 2:54 PM
Learn with the Intern: The Proof is in the California Pudding
The Sunshine State has been making major headlines this week regarding the national movement to open primary elections. A bipartisan group of activists is pushing for a state constitutional amendment that would allow voters to vote for Republicans or Democrats no matter how you're registered to vote in Florida.
Called the "All Voters Vote” Amendment, it's main goal is to open primaries, and therefore give a voice to the growing number of Floridians who are written out of the state's primary election system because they choose not to register with any political party.
The candidate who receives the most votes and the runner-up would advance to the general election. In state elections, the candidate who gets more than 50 percent of votes in the primary wins the election.
If the measure makes it to the ballot and is approved by 60 percent of voters, it would take effect in the 2018 election cycle. To date, Washington, California, Louisiana and Nebraska adhere to a Top Two primary system. Other states, including South Dakota, New Mexico and Illinois, are considering the shift.
Under current law in Florida only when a candidate has no opposition from outside their party can all voters cast a vote in that race in the primary. Florida has seen a steady increase in no party affiliation voter registrations over the years, with nearly one-third of all Florida registered voters opting out of identifying themselves as Republicans or Democrats.
Political Science Professor Dr. Laura Weir believes open elections are what the founding fathers wanted. She said, “George Washington left office and he wrote a long letter to the members of congress and said I warn you against instituting political parties, because look at how bad England is and this was hundreds of years ago”.
Some worry that an open primary could leave party nominations open to manipulation where one party could organize votes and vote for the other party candidate that most agrees with their views. Political analyst Lars Hafner shot this idea down by stating, "The majority party is not going to necessarily want to open their arms and embrace it because they've already got the majority in the state of Florida". Basically, the parties are afraid that they may be losing voters because they will no longer be constrained by the partisan machine.
To preserve their political careers, all that most Florida politicians have to do is avoid being "primaried" -- getting an opponent in a primary race who is more likely to be even more radical and polarized than the incumbent. With the “All Voters Vote” Amendment, elected officials would have to then reach out to constituents and display a genuine interest in their needs and concerns to win an election, which may scare some politicians.
With all this is mind, let’s now look to a recent and successful example of a state using an Open and Top Two primary election system: California. The rapid and transformative impact of Top Two in California can serve as a blueprint for others looking to reduce legislative dysfunction and voter disengagement.
In a report conducted by scholar Omar H. Ali and political activist Jason Olsen, California’s new state of election affairs is described as a quiet revolution that can potentially spark other states to join the movement to open primaries, increase voter turnout, and create more competitive elections among political candidates. In 2010, despite being opposed by every political party in California, the California Top Two Primaries Act (Proposition 14) passed with 54% of the vote. The campaign marked the culmination of a decade-long voter revolt in California that began with the recall of Governor Gray Davis in 2003.
California is no longer a national symbol for legislative dysfunction. Members of the legislature, who must now be elected by building diverse coalitions of voters, head to Sacramento incentivized to continue to do the same while in office. The state has passed balanced budgets on time in each year since 2012, and has enacted legislation on issues that previously would have triggered partisan intransigence: education financing, immigration and gun control.
A comprehensive study by the Lucy Burns Institute of all state legislative elections in the country from 2010 to 2014 named California as the most competitive for the 2012-2014 period and showed a 25% increase in competition over California’s 2010 score (the last year of partisan elections), which ranked the state ninth.
Additionally, Assemblywoman Autumn Burke of the California Legislative Black Caucus, which has expanded its membership from 8 to 12 under the top two primary system recently stated, “as challenging as the open primary system has been for many of us, it’s kept us in touch with our constituents.” The percentage of California voters that identify as independent has been rising steadily for the last fifteen years. In 2007, independent voters comprised 18% of the California electorate.
Today they represent close to 25%. The growth of minority voters identifying as independent has followed a similar course with the fastest growth among Latinos; today 17% of Latino voters now identify as independent. Under the old system, these voters were second class citizens. Their tax dollars were used to conduct closed primary elections that they themselves could not join. All voters in California are now able to participate meaningfully whether they opt to join a political party or not.
In concluding their research piece, Ali and Olsen affirm that, “For those seeking a way forward from the partisanship and polarization that has enveloped the Congress, state legislatures and the country as a whole, the early success of the top two nonpartisan primary in California can serve as a national model”. In agreeance with these two men, I look forward to the outcome of the proposed “All Voters Vote” Amendment in Florida, and hope that state sheds a ray of sun on its political atmosphere.
Originally from New Jersey, Samantha Serrano is currently a rising sophomore at The George Washington University located in Washington, DC. Samantha has had a passion for government and politics throughout her educational journey, which sparked her interest to intern at Open Primaries Inc. in Manhattan.
In high school, Samantha was very actively involved in extracurricular activities as the Student Government President, Class Council Secretary, and Treasurer of the New Jersey Assoc. of Student Councils while maintaining her GPA to graduate in the top 2% of her class.
Now attending one of the most politically active schools in the country, Samantha plans to take the experience she gains from interning at Open Primaries Inc. and apply it to her future endeavors at school as well as her future career.