The Black Box: Top Two Primaries

Political professionals and lobbyists often name a bill the opposite of what it does. The Clean Air Act, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act are all disingenuously named. With enough spin and advertising, we end up voting for things that we would never have wanted had we seen the whole picture. That's how it is with anti-democracy acts called "Open Primaries," a.k.a. "Top Two."

Three states have a "Top Two" system for federal candidates whereby only the Top Two vote-getters in the primaries advance to the general election, irrespective of party affiliation: California, Washington, and Louisiana. If a district vote primarily Republican, two Republicans can advance to the general election, ensuring a Republican win. But one of the candidates may switch parties and call himself a Democrat, if only to pick up the Democratic votes.

The same forces who are trying to suppress, manipulate, and frustrate the process of voting may also be in the process of getting Top Two passed in your state.

I don't like Top Two because it:
  • Restricts the number of candidates running for office.
  • Reduces the amount of issues and solutions that tend to be discussed during debates.
  • Allows the moneyed interests to bathe each opponent in cash, concentrating their influence on fewer candidates in the run-up to the general election.
  • Confuses voters because it allows the candidate to change his party affiliation in the middle of the race. (A Republican can say he's a Democrat, if only to pick up the liberal vote.)
  • Favors the person raising the most money the earliest.
  • Has all the problems that First Past The Post has, but does so on steroids because it cements those problems into place for the entire general election period:
  1. favors incumbents
  2. makes gerrymandering work easier
  3. tends to promote the worst candidates through vote-splitting and the spoiler effect during the primary

Don't believe the hype if "Open Primaries" or Top Two comes to your state. They will try to convince you that it improves the democratic experience, but it's just the opposite.

This is the last installment of a six-part series on voting, found in Chapter 30 of In Search of the Next POTUS: One Woman's Quest to Fix Washington, a True Story.