Currently, there are several organizations actively promoting election reform at the national level in the United States. Many more groups and individuals are active at the state level. Still, there doesn’t appear to be any overall strategy, common purpose or long term plan for success.
Democrats and Republicans have a common purpose and plan – to preserve the status quo – indefinitely. If Independents aren’t pursuing a common goal, partisans will succeed – with little or no effort. Unfortunately, “you can’t herd cats” and “you can’t organize Independents.” Independent means “not affiliated.” The plan proposed here attempts the impossible – “herding independents.”
The “perceived” state of election reform:
Shown below is a diagram of the state of election reform in the United States as it’s “perceived” by voters in 2019. The bottom of the diagram represents the status quo – “private nominating” elections. The federal and state courts have declared that major party primaries are “private” party functions, and all unaffiliated candidates and voters may be legally excluded. By law, each political party is guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot for their nominee.
The top of the diagram represents the ultimate goal of election reform – “public qualifying” primaries:
- No voter or candidate is excluded;
- The name of every candidate appears on every ballot;
- There are no artificial barriers that would prevent any voter from supporting any candidate;
- Only the top candidates qualify for the general election ballot regardless of party affiliation.
The three colored rectangles (green, yellow, and red) represent voter support for each of the possible alternatives. Top-Two primary initiatives passed in both Washington State and California. Subsequently, Top-Two ballot initiatives failed miserably by a 2:1 margin in both Oregon and Arizona. As shown, the Top-Two ballot measures only garnered 33% of the vote on election day, even though pre-election polling had shown voters in both states supporting election reform by a 2:1 margin. It follows that 1/3 of voters are willing to support other “open primary” solutions – but not the Top-Two.
The failure of the Top-Two solution in Oregon and Arizona came as a shock to election reform advocates nationwide. In hindsight, however, this outcome should have been expected. Once the Top-Two was established and implemented in California, the flaws became much more apparent. Opponents used this new information to defeat subsequent ballot initiatives. It’s now likely that any new Top-Two ballot measure will fail – in any state. The Top-Two is an alternative to private nominating primaries, but for a substantial majority of voters, it’s not an acceptable alternative.
- Both the Democrat and Republican parties typically field more than one candidate per office. There were 16 Republican candidates on the Florida 2016 Presidential Primary ballot, and there are 20 Democrats running for President in 2020. If there are twenty Democrats and only two Republicans on the ballot, the two Republicans would likely advance from a Top-Two primary to the general election. “Vote Splitting” in both the primary and general elections is a genuine problem for both major parties. Major party voters will never support a Top-Two solution for the U.S. presidential election. It isn’t reasonable to expect otherwise.
- Because of the Top-Two, for statewide offices, the general election in California is often a runoff between two Democrats. Third-party candidates are locked out entirely, and even Republicans have trouble advancing from the primary to the general election. This isn’t the situation that voters were expecting, and it’s simply not acceptable – even for Independent voters.
As of September 2019, there is a group attempting to qualify a Top-Two ballot initiative for the November 2020 General Election in Florida. If the Top-Two fails badly in Florida, it will prove the Top-Two is a “dead” issue nationwide. If it passes, or even comes close, it will show that support for private nominating elections has eroded significantly since Top-Two ballot initiatives failed in Oregon and Arizona ten years ago.
Paul Damian Wells 10/13/2019
There’s doesn’t appear to be any movement to repeal the Top-Two primary in California or Washington – but the consensus is that some other form of public qualifying election is needed. There is a push for a Top-Four primary – nearly identical to the Top-Two – but four candidates advance from the primary to the general election. This all but guarantees general election ballot access for Republicans – but the issue of vote splitting is not resolved.
In the diagram shown above, the Top-Two garners approximately 33% of voter support. The Top-Four alternative should have greater support of 34% -38%, but this is far below the 50% needed to pass any ballot initiative. The Top-Four is an improvement over the Top-Two, but only marginally.
On January 9, 2020, An organization called “Alaskans for Better Elections” submitted signatures to place a Top-Four primary on the November 2020 general election ballot. Additionally, the petition also mandates Ranked Choice Voting for the general election. This pairing of a Top-Four Primary and Ranked Choice should give the initiative a boost. I’m still not convinced this will get the initiative over the 50% threshold – but I would love to be proven wrong.
Paul Damian Wells 1/18/2020
The “real” state of election reform:
Politics is propaganda warfare, and the first rule of propaganda is that “people believe what they need to believe in order to survive and prosper.” The second rule of propaganda is that “what people need or want to believe doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with reality.” The “perceived” state of election reform discussed above is an excellent example. A diagram of the “real” state of election reform appears below. It’s very similar to the diagram above, but four election reform alternatives have been moved below the public/private dividing line. In addition, the voter support thresholds have been adjusted accordingly.
For decades, the two major parties have been conducting a massive nationwide propaganda campaign. This “Open Primary” campaign is designed to convince voters that Independents can gain full voting rights without abolishing private nominating primaries – the existing closed primaries only need to be modified to allow participation by Independent voters.
To date, three variations of an “open primary” have been implemented in several states; “Open“, “Semi-Open“, and “Semi-Closed“. In each of these variants, voters need not declare their party affiliation during registration. Prior to each primary election however, unaffiliated voters are given an additional opportunity to declare their affiliation by simply requesting a party ballot. In the ‘Semi-Open” and “Semi-Closed” variants, voters must typically fill out and return a form requesting a major party ballot. In the “Open” variant, voters are actually given the opportunity to request a partisan ballot at the polling station on election day.
The false premise here is that the private nominating primaries are modified – but of course – they aren’t. Each of these variants is an unmodified, closed private nominating election. All unaffiliated candidates and voters are excluded. The truth is, any voter who requests a partisan ballot is implicitly declaring their party affiliation and joining the party. Officially, they are no longer Independent voters and are treated exactly like any other major party voter. Only the process of joining the major party has been modified.
The “Public Ballot” variant shown above implements a different approach to fooling voters. In this scheme, a new, fake major party is established, complete with primary election and ballot. All voters and candidates not affiliated with a major party are required to participate in this new “public” primary – while the original private nominating primaries remain unchanged. This proposal hasn’t been implemented in any state – and probably never will be. It’s just too vile and insulting to Independent and Minor Party voters. Even Democrats have refused to back this proposal.
By any standard of review, the “Open Primary” propaganda campaign has been wildly successful. This is due in no small part to how it’s been pursued. Rather than promoting the campaign through websites and organizations that are openly aligned with the two major parties – new fake organizations and websites are used.
“Propaganda fronts” are sham organizations and websites that typically claim to represent Independent voters, but instead, actively promote “Open Primary” propaganda. There are several of these websites, and each has a strong presence on the internet. Typically, they aggressively solicit donations, and most of the money raised is spent promoting the website. Interestingly, they all seem to have a lawyer on staff as well. (No legitimate election reform organization can afford a full-time attorney – and why would they need one?)
An alternative public qualifying election is needed.
The “Open Primary” propaganda campaign is something of an open secret among unaffiliated voters. Most Independent voters realize that when Democrats or Republicans claim they are “opening” their primary – it’s a lie. Unaffiliated voters don’t want to participate in selecting the candidates that best represent the major parties – because unaffiliated voters don’t support the major party agendas. That’s why they register as Independent or Minor Party in the first place.
So why hasn’t the “Open Primary” propaganda campaign been challenged by Independent and Minor Party voters? Well – what would be the point? Up until just recently, the Top-Two has been the only alternative to private nominating primaries – and the Top-Two is a fatally flawed solution. Even Independent voters don’t like it. Real election reform advocates have known for decades that election reform is going nowhere until an alternative form of public qualifying election is found.
The “Hybrid Primary” – a new alternative.
Independents demand full voting rights and public qualifying primaries – but – vote splitting is a legitimate, critical issue for major party candidates. Without closed party primaries, major party candidates are immediately disadvantaged simply because each major party typically fields more than one candidate per office. It’s necessary that the issue of vote-splitting be addressed and resolved.
The simple solution is to conduct two primaries. A nominating primary for major parties, followed by a qualifying primary for all candidates and voters. This is too time-consuming and expensive. It probably violates the U.S. and state constitutions as well. The next best alternative is to combine a nominating primary and a qualifying primary into a single election – the “Hybrid Primary“.
1. the offspring of two animals or plants of different breeds, varieties, species, or genera, especially as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics.
2. a person or group of persons produced by the interaction or crossbreeding of two unlike cultures, traditions, etc.
3. anything derived from heterogeneous sources, or composed of elements of different or incongruous kinds:
The Hybrid Primary is a public qualifying election, but it nonetheless, fully incorporates the closed major party primaries. The diagram below shows where the Hybrid Primary fits relative to the other primary election types – straddling the Public/Private dividing line.
The Hybrid Primary subsumes the closed party primaries using a two-stage vote tally. The ballots cast by major party voters are counted first with the top affiliated candidate winning all the affiliated votes cast. (winner-take-all) In this way, major parties are allowed the opportunity to select their top candidate and consolidate their support. The remaining ballots, cast by Independent and Minor Party voters, are counted, and all the results added.
Only voters registered as members of a major party receive partisan ballots, while all Independent and Minor Party voters receive an “Open” ballot. All unaffiliated voters are thus excluded from participating in the initial major party vote tally. Nonetheless, the major party primaries are not private – the names of Independent and Minor Party candidates appear on the partisan ballots as well as the open ballots. Major party voters may opt-out of the initial partisan tally by voting for an Independent or Minor Party candidate. (In a “free” election, Independent and Minor Party candidates must have an unfettered opportunity to solicit the support of Major Party voters.)
A compromise solution = greater voter support
The Hybrid Primary is a compromise solution. It secures full voting rights for unaffiliated voters and equal ballot access for Minor Party candidates – but – it doesn’t abolish the major party primaries. Election reform purists will no doubt find this compromise unacceptable. In contrast, the typical voter is likely to find this proposal very appealing. For major party voters and major party candidates in particular, this appears to be a “no-lose” situation. Independents secure full voting rights, but partisans don’t give up anything.
It’s expected that many Independents will initially reject the Hybrid Primary compromise precisely because it doesn’t abolish the major party primaries. Nonetheless, if a Hybrid Primary initiative is placed on the ballot in any state, most voters who supported the Top-Two will likely support a Hybrid Primary (33%). In addition, the Hybrid Primary will likely draw a significant number of Major and Minor party voters who previously would not support the Top-Two. In the diagram shown above, the green rectangle represents the anticipated support for the Hybrid Primary at 45%. Much greater than the level of support for the Top-Two – but still below 50%.
The passage of time will eventually lead to free elections.
Are you part of:
“Generation Z”? (Born after 1996)
“Millennial”? (Born 1981 – 1996)
“Generation X”? (Born 1965 – 1980)
“Baby Boomers”? (Born 1946 – 1964)
“Silent Generation”? (Born 1928 – 1945)
Does it matter which of these generations will vote in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election? … In 2024, 2028, 2032, 2036, 2040? Yes – it absolutely does!
“Generation Zers, Millennials and Generation Xers cast 69.6 million votes in the 2016 general election, a slight majority of the 137.5 million total votes cast, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. Meanwhile, Boomers and older voters represented fewer than half of all votes for the first time. The shift has occurred as Millennials accounted for a growing share of the electorate and as those in the Silent and Greatest generations aged and died.”
“The ascendance of the Millennial vote is noteworthy because Millennials are more likely to be self-described independents, but they also are more Democratic than older generations in their political preferences. Among Millennials, 44% were independents in 2016, compared with 39% of Gen Xers and smaller shares of Boomers (31%) and members of the Silent Generation (23%).”
The younger generations are much more likely to be Independent voters, and it follows they’re much more likely to support public qualifying elections. The Silent Generation voters are most likely to be partisan and oppose election reform – but – nearly all of the silent generation will be dead by 2040. Overall, partisan opponents of election reform are dying off at a much higher rate than they’re being replaced.
“Using up all the oxygen in the room.”
So… reform activists can just sit back and wait for Republicans and Democrats to die? Not so much. That plan might work – if voters were aware of the Hybrid Primary alternative, or any other alternative – but they’re not. In the upcoming 2020 U.S. Presidential Primary, Independent voters nationwide will be upset when they are excluded. Many of them will turn to the internet to look for ways to support election reform.
If you type the phrase “election reform” into a google search box in October of 2019, you will get page after page of search results – but no reference to the “Hybrid Primary” or “Open Primary Propaganda”. What you will see is a prominent link to an organization called “Fair Vote”. You won’t find any reference to the “Hybrid Primary” on this website in October of 2019.
The most prominent website devoted to news about election reform is “Independent Voter News“. If you visit this website in October of 2019 and use their search widget to look for relevant articles, you won’t find any mention of the “Hybrid Primary”, but you will find articles promoting the “Public Primary“.
“independentvoting.org” is a national organization that has been around for decades promoting full voting rights for Independents. If you visit their website in October of 2019, you’ll find information concerning their “Eyes on 2020” campaign. They have a great TV ad running in Arizona featuring an Iraq war vet who’s not allowed to vote because he’s an Independent voter. Unfortunately, this ad and campaign promote “Open Primary” propaganda – not public qualifying primaries.
All of these websites are similar – not because of what they’re talking about – but because of what they’re not talking about – the Hybrid Primary. These websites are “using up all the oxygen in the room.” Independents visit these websites and assume they have all the information that’s available about election reform. Each of these websites appears to be very comprehensive. That’s the whole idea.
Finally, if you type in the phrase “hybrid primary election” into a google search box in October of 2019, you won’t see a link to this website or any other website that talks about the hybrid primary. You will see a link to a “ballotpedia.org” page that claims the “Semi-Closed” primary is a hybrid primary.
If you continue flipping thru search results for “hybrid primary election,” eventually you might see an ad for this website. That’s how we defeat the propaganda fronts. We just get the word out. Slowly-but-Surely, over a long period of time, Independent voters will realize they’re being misled and misinformed by partisan propaganda fronts. This process will probably take years – two decades, in fact. The “Open Primary” propaganda campaign is well organized and funded.
Current Status of the Campaign
As of October 2019, I’m currently running two google text search ads. Graphics of the actual ads are shown below and the landing pages are “The-Hybrid-Primary” and “Closed-Primary“. This is a very modest campaign of $20/day. It typically costs $0.50/click, so the campaign generates about 40 visitors/day. Interestingly, the page view rate is typically between 1.5 to 2.0 – indicating that most visitors read the whole landing page and some actually click thru to other pages on the site.
There isn’t any reason to do more at this point in time. Independent voters are simply not engaged yet. Come January of 2020 however, I expect that interest in the presidential election will sky-rocket. The first three months of 2020 will be an excellent opportunity to ramp up the text ad campaign and use other advertising opportunities as well.
This campaign is similar to running a radio station. We can broadcast day and night at max power, but it does no good unless our potential listeners are tuned into our specific frequency. Independent voters only tune in during the presidential primary – and this only happens once every four years. This is why the campaign is expected to take 20 years – six presidential election cycles: 2020, 2024, 2028, 2032, 2036, and 2040…