All the wrong choices

 Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  July 7, 2014

Reform is in the air.

So is methane gas. Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference.

Such notable entities as former Republican US Senator Olympia Snowe and the Portland Press Herald are calling for changes in the way we elect our leaders in order to restore public confidence, end gridlock, and reverse global warming. There’s a much better chance they’ll accomplish that last one than either of the other two.

Snowe, a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform (motto: Organizations With Really Long Names Are Just Naturally More Credible), is calling for all states to institute open primaries. There are two types of these. One is a blanket primary wherein all candidates for a particular office run in a single race, regardless of party affiliation. If nobody gets a majority, the top two contenders face off in the general election. The other version maintains partisan primaries, but allows voters of any party to cast ballots wherever they choose.

“The armies of gridlock are well-funded and well-organized,” Snowe told the Associated Press. “What we need is a counterweight to that extremism.”

Snowe argues that allowing everyone to choose the parties’ nominees will provide an advantage to candidates who advocate cooperation and collaboration, thereby appealing to middle-of-the-road voters.

If that seems too good to be true, it’s because it is.

Louisiana has had blanket primaries since 1976, during which time the state has maintained its position as one of the most corrupt in the nation. Its elected officials could be defined as moderate only when compared to their pre-’76 counterparts, who were both racist and corrupt.

I suppose that’s progress of a sort.

Hawaii has open primaries that allow voters to take part in choosing any nominee regardless of party enrollment. Since this system was implemented in 1978, turnout has declined dramatically. Nobody seems too sure why, but it could be because most people think allowing voters who aren’t members of a party to pick its nominees is a stupid idea.

In California, studies show the congressional delegation has gotten more ideologically extreme since open primaries began in 2010. And the number of third-party and independent candidates has declined sharply.

At least 20 states have open primaries for presidential races, thereby encouraging all manner of ballot manipulation. Democrats support the weakest Republican. GOP voters choose the most obnoxious Dem. If you don’t think this has an impact, check out the candidates for the White House in the last half-dozen elections. Or imagine how the results of the recently concluded 2nd Congressional District primaries would have differed if Republican voters could have backed Democratic loser Troy Jackson, while enrolled Democrats sided with Republican also-ran Kevin Raye.

In November, we might have had an election so anemic that neither candidate could win.

As bad as Snowe’s idea is, the Press Herald has a worse one. The newspaper has been editorializing in favor of more ranked-choice voting, the system currently used to pick Portland’s mayor. It allows voters to rate the candidates from first to worst. If nobody gets a majority, the last-place finisher is eliminated and those votes distributed to the second choices on the ballots. This process continues until somebody either wins, or everyone gets so mixed up they go home.

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