We all know the political system is broken. Our leaders are not producing solutions to the issues we care about. No one is listening, just talking past each other.
But what if the system is working the way it was designed to work? What if politicians are operating very rationally and logically based on incentives of the political system in place?
That is what many of the smartest observers of our dysfunctional mess of a political system think. Instead of blaming the politicians, we should blame the system and focus on changing it to get the outcomes we desire.
One element of the broken system: closed party primaries.
According to a recent report by the Unite America Institute, only 10% of Americans are electing most of Congress. That’s because there is practically no competition in general elections – due to both gerrymandering and self-sorting of the electorate along partisan lines – making partisan primaries the election of consequence in more than 80% of the country.
As a result, we get more extreme politicians who are appealing to these primary voters. An elected official’s main concern is to avoid getting “primaried” by someone further left or further right. So, our elected officials over time track further to the edges of political discourse, seeing no incentive to compromise or coalition build, and we end up with gridlock nationally and at the state level.
Don’t despair. There are two solutions that can fix the system and allow our elected officials to vote their conscience, coalition build and be more effective. Three states have already adopted one of them, and one state both of them. New Mexico does not have to reinvent the wheel.
First, we make primaries nonpartisan so all candidates run together in a single election open to all voters. Candidates can still label themselves with a party or no party, but they all have to talk to all voters to get past the first round of public elections, not just the party regulars.
Second, the top four vote-getters move on to the general election in which ranked-choice voting is used to choose the winner. It’s simple, like going to an ice cream shop. If your first choice, chocolate, is sold out, then you order your second choice, vanilla, and if that is sold out, your third choice might be coffee.
Political parties should be players in the political marketplace, not the rule setters, and creating nonpartisan primaries puts the voters in charge, not the parties. The parties can and do still endorse their candidates, but they don’t control who can vote in a public election as they do today in New Mexico.
Alaska just passed major election reform in 2020 with nonpartisan primaries and the top four vote-getters going to the general election where ranked-choice voting will be used. Nebraska, California and Washington have nonpartisan primaries with the top two going to the general, and Maine uses ranked-choice voting in its general election. Santa Fe and Las Cruces use ranked-choice voting for their local races.
We can fix the system. Join us. New Mexico Open Elections is a nonprofit based in the Albuquerque area dedicated to putting voters first. We already have sponsors and a draft bill to fix the system and will introduce the bill next session. We need your help and support.