The Public Ballot: A Republican alternative to real election reform.

Recently, there’s been an uptick of support at the Independent Voter Network (IVN) for an election reform proposal called “The Public Ballot”. Basically, the existing Democrat and Republican primaries are not altered, but a third major party primary for Independent and minor party candidates is added.

This idea was first introduced in California by two Republican assembly members as ACR 145 – 2016. A very similar proposal called “The Peoples Primary” was introduced in the Oregon legislature by Republicans in 2017 as HB-3140. Both proposals died quickly in legislative committees.

These proposals look a lot like the hybrid primary, and the posts at IVN use a lot of the same rhetoric and language that’s used to argue for the hybrid primary. Both proposals use three different ballots, and the posts at IVN even use a diagram showing the three ballots side-by-side, just like the posts here. So let’s compare the diagrams to see how the proposals match up.

Shown first – for reference, is a diagram of the three ballots available to voters in a closed primary state. All un-affiliated candidates are excluded. The Republican Ballot shows only Republican candidates, and the Democratic Ballot shows only Democratic candidates. The Nonpartisan ballot, required for all minor party and Independent voters shows no candidates at all – effectively excluding all unaffiliated voters. In a closed primary state, all unaffiliated voters and candidates may be legally excluded because both the state and federal courts have declared that major party primaries are “private” nominating functions.

Closed Primary Ballots

Shown next – for reference, is a diagram of the three ballots available to voters in a hybrid primary state. Note that no candidate or voter is excluded, and the name of every candidate appears on every ballot. Like the top-two primary, the hybrid primary is a single open election. The private party primaries and their associated exclusion are permanently abolished.

Alternative Hybrid Primary Ballots

A two stage vote tally insures a fair election by providing major parties the ability to consolidate their support behind a single candidate for each office, and the three different ballots are necessary to facilitate the initial partisan tally. Nonetheless, there are no private primaries because political parties do not nominate candidates to the general election ballot in a hybrid primary state. Only the top four candidates advance to the general election and these four candidates are chosen by voters in the primary.

Finally, shown below are the three ballots used in a public ballot state. The exact details of the public ballot proposal are a little sketchy, but the general idea is captured by the three ballots shown. Note, this primary is in fact, a closed primary. The major party primaries remain unchanged as private political party functions and all unaffiliated candidates and voters are excluded. The “public ballot” is actually a new “fake” major party that all unaffiliated voters and candidates are required to join.

Public Primary Ballots

In a free, open election, all voters and candidates participate regardless of party affiliation, and the name of every candidate appears on every ballot. Minor party and Independent candidates must have an equal and unfettered opportunity to solicit the support of major party voters. As shown above, the names of major party candidates appear on the public ballot, but the names of Independent and Third party candidates don’t appear on the major party ballots. The public ballot proposal incorporates an artificial barrier that prevents major party voters from crossing party lines.

The public ballot proposal is not election reform – it’s exactly the opposite. The public ballot proposal perpetuates and safeguards the major party primaries as private political party functions. In spite of claims to the contrary, there is no attempt to eliminate voter or candidate exclusion. It’s a sham.

IVP’s solution would have no effect on the Democrat or Republican ballot and the parties would be able to choose whether or not to consider the results of the public presidential primary ballot in choosing their presidential nominee.
Bottom Line: Let the parties keep their own ballots. Let the parties exclude or include whoever they want. Let the parties decide their own rules of nomination.

HB-3140 was introduced by two Republican lawmakers in 2017 – Knute Buehler (R-Bend) and Rich Vial (R-Scholls). In 2018, Rich Vial ran for re-election as the incumbent in Oregon House District 26. He was defeated by Democrat Neron Courtney (51% to 47%). Knute Buehler resigned his house seat to run for Governor in 2018. He was defeated by Democrat Kate Brown. Interestingly, according to political analysts that covered the campaign, Brown was ultimately victorious, in part, because she was able to convince voters that Buehler could not be trusted. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned here for Republicans in other states.