We must change our election primary systems to save our democracy - Open Primaries
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Posted by jesse shayne on August 30, 2017 at 11:40 AM

We must change our election primary systems to save our democracy

This article was written by former Missouri State Senator Marvin A. Singleton for the Kansas City Star

The political system we have come to know and practice — outlined by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and giving one vote to each citizen — is in grave danger.

We have recently seen candidates for the presidency with historically high negatives. Neither major candidate was able to discuss major policies or their visions for the country. Instead, we saw personal attacks, accusations, misinformation and the general lack of a thoughtful approach to governing. “Trust me” is no longer a valid policy statement or position for any politician.

Regardless of how we got here, to ensure that our democracy moves forward and represents the will of the majority of Americans, change in the system must come — fundamental change in how we chose our candidates. We must give the majority of citizens input into the process.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina remarked about the final Republican primary choices in 2016: “Whether it’s death by being shot or poisoning, does it really matter?”

What should be done?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, primary elections are conducted with complex and varied laws in each state. Just consider how many types of primaries we have: closed in nine states, partially closed in seven, partially open in six, open to unaffiliated voters in nine, open in 15 and top-two systems in four.

It appears those top-two primary systems are working very well. California, Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington have top-two primaries, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

We should institute such a system in every state, allowing every registered citizen an opportunity to decide who will be on the ballot in the general election. This would prevent extreme candidates representing only a small majority from making their way to the ballot in general elections. It would keep voters from feeling they must choose the less damaging of the final choices.

All persuasions and major parties — Green, Libertarian and independents — would be able to vote, with the two candidates with the largest share of popular vote running in the general election.

This format lists all candidates on the same ballot, where they can disclose their party affiliations. This system allows for more moderation in views. It’s just what we need at this time in our country: the ability to discuss and come together with negotiations for the good of the nation, not political party ideology.

We should also institute a legal holiday for elections. This would eliminate long lines at polling places and increase voter participation.

CBS News wrote in a 2008 editorial: “Universal suffrage refers to the right to vote for all adults regardless of ethnicity, sex, and economic status; however, a myriad of Americans every election season are limited in their access to the polls. Many are forced to choose between exercising their right to vote and putting food on the table. A steady paycheck takes precedence over taking time off to vote.”

The last midterm election cycle in 2014 saw the fewest U.S. voters since 1942 — and we had an excuse for not voting in 1942.

It is common in other countries to have a national voting day. This low turnout is a travesty in America, the cornerstone of democracy.

These changes in choosing our leaders would carry our democracy forward without having to make bad choices. It would give the power of the ballot box to all of the citizens of this great country.

Republican Marvin A. Singleton represented Missouri’s 32nd District in the state Senate from 1989 to 2002.

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