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Sick of choosing between the ‘lesser of two evils’? Push for electoral reform

As the common adage goes, politics is about addition, not subtraction. True success in politics should be not just winning on Election Day, but when candidates inspire people to rally behind a cause, bring new voices and perspectives into the conversation, and broaden the marketplace of ideas.

Political addition is the foundation of a healthy democracy, but unfortunately, our current political system leaves many citizens out of the equation. The structure of elections, especially party primaries, contributes to this disparity.

Party primaries have low turnout. Just 10 percent of the electorate, composed mainly of our country’s most dedicated partisans, participated in the 2020 primary elections. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that more than 80 percent of congressional districts are completely safe for one party.  Far too often, party primaries become the de-facto election — frustrating voters and contributing to a status quo where elected officials are disincentivized from solving problems.

Put another way, in most congressional districts throughout our country, just 10 percent of the most partisan voters choose the leaders that 100 percent of us must live with.

For newer or historically underrepresented constituencies, it can be challenging to make headway in the primary system. Those without a strong level of established institutional support struggle to compete. This creates a negative feedback loop where fewer candidates make it to the general election, or even bother to run in the first place — yet another disincentive for voter turnout. 

Addressing these issues through innovative reform will strengthen our system of representative democracy. But is there a simple way to change the party primary system to foster more citizen engagement and more choice, without favoring one party over another?

An innovative idea that fits that bill is Final-Five Voting, put forth by the Institute for Political Innovation.

Final-Five Voting would make our election system more accessible to everyone, no matter their party. Rather than having separate party primaries, voters would participate in a single primary with all the candidates and their political affiliations listed on a single ballot. Voters would choose whomever they like, from any party, whether Republican, Democrat or independent.

The top five vote-getters from the single ballot primary would advance to the general election, where voters would rank them in order from their most preferred to their least preferred to determine the winner.

Final-Five Voting — this specific combination of top-five primaries and instant runoff-voting general elections — would have a powerful, positive impact on our system. Rather than forcing voters to choose the “lesser of two evils,” we’d infuse healthy competition into politics and help to ensure that candidates are more responsive and accountable to all the voters of the state or district they seek to represent.

A Final-Five Voting system also would lower barriers to entry for potential candidates, increasing the number and type of candidates who choose to run. Because it doesn’t limit the amount of general election candidates to only two — the way primaries do in states such as California — it helps to get candidates with new ideas and perspectives on important issues into the public debate. 

According to one analysis, Final-Five Voting could even bolster political engagement from underserved communities. Opening the process would mean greater room for a wider array of candidates to compete. Voters would have a wider bench of choices that might more accurately represent their views than candidates coming out of partisan primaries. 

More candidates from different communities, running and presumably winning at a rate higher than the status quo, would lead to a greater voice in government for those communities. According to a study by researchers from Princeton and University of California-Riverside, when members of a particular group are present in government, the issues facing those communities are more likely to be solved.

The reality is that the political status quo is a morass of increased frustration, political gridlock and disenfranchisement — all of which are reaching unhealthy levels among people of all political persuasions. 

The American system of representative democracy is in dire need of constructive reform that increases participation and avoids tipping the scales toward one party or another. Adopting an innovation such as Final-Five Voting could help revive our system in a way that helps all Americans.

Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a public policy advocacy organization that promotes liberty, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. Follow him on Twitter @MarioHLopez.

Tags Elections Instant-runoff voting Voter turnout

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