By the time you read this column, the 2022 midterm primary election in Washington state will likely be completed.
I hope you all voted, but the percentage of registered voters who actually cast their ballots in the August 2020 primary was only 54.44 percent, according to the Secretary of State data. That means that a little more than half of voters actually participated. The fewer the voters, the greater the influence those voters have upon who gets to be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Primaries are really important for a number of reasons, but they are flawed and need to be altered.
The first reason that they are flawed has to do with what is called being “primaried”. Since primaries are the times when hard-core voters turn out in great numbers, the more extreme have an enormous influence on who gets to be on the November ballot. Being “primaried” means that the extreme end of either party can put the more extremist candidate on the November ballot. The incumbent ends up getting booted out because the opponents in his party select those with extremist views.
This is what likely will happen to Rep. Liz Cheney from Wyoming . She was one of the ten Republican House members who voted to impeach President Trump in 2021, and now is serving as vice chair on the Select Committee investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. It’s likely that she will lose in the primary to a Trump-endorsed candidate.
In May, Democrats primaried out the more moderate North Carolina Republican gubernatorial candidate by supporting a far-right Trump candidate who is unlikely to win against the heavily-favored Democratic candidate. This frustrates the will of the voters and allows the other party to jury-rig the election.
Threats of being primaried is a common tactic used mainly by Republicans to keep their party members towing the line. It has been very effective. Several Republicans have chosen to retire rather than be subjected to being primaried.
Washington state’s 31st state district candidate Chris Vance, a moderate Republican, has chosen to run as an independent against Republican incumbent Rep. Phil Fortunato because he knows the 31st is very conservative. No Democrat can win there. By the time you read this column you will know whether his strategy worked.
Progressives initiated primaries in the early 1900s to strip party bosses of their power. It hasn’t worked, however, due to the lack of participation by a large proportion of voters who don’t understand that the power to nominate is more important than the actual voting. Hong Kong is an example of this where President Xi Jin Ping nominated a candidate to run the government with no real opposition, due to government suppression of opposing candidates hostile to Xi and the Communist Party.
In places like Maine, New York City, and Alaska, ranked-choice voting is the law. A voter ranks the candidates by preference. After the ballots are counted, the candidate(s) with the lowest vote is/are eliminated, and second-place preferences come into play until there are just two candidates.
According to rankedvote.co, the candidate with the strongest preference among voters is selected.
Campaigns are more civil because a wider number of potential voters lessens the need to be scathing. It reduces “wasted votes”, and depending on how it is structured, it eliminates the need for multiple elections.
Arguments against ranked-choice voting are that it’s too complicated and that the person with the most votes can lose if they don’t get a 50 percent-plus majority. Additionally, someone’s votes could be “exhausted”, where no one the voter preferred wins.
The counter-argument is that wasted votes occur in current elections when your candidate does not gain a majority.
Ranked-choice voting encourages vote by the consent of the governed and majority rule. The more people whose preferences are counted, the more likely they will feel that their voices are being heard.
This state needs to consider ranked-choice voting. The primary system allows the extremes of both parties to control the nominations. Primaries and general elections also encourage more mud-slinging, often with lying and slander being an integral part of elections. It was a novel attempt in the early 20th century to weaken the power of party bosses, but time has shown it to be deeply flawed. No system is perfect, but ranked-choice voting deserves your consideration. The primary system is broken and needs fixing.