Big Fix 2. Restrain the Two-Party System

Open Primaries

We need to mandate open primaries for all federal offices (President, Vice President, and both chambers of Congress). These are the rules for primaries that we should adopt:

  • Any eligible candidate may compete in any open primary, subject to state rules for qualifying for the ballot.
  • One primary will take place for each elected office. Candidates from every political party and from no party (independents) may participate. The ballot will indicate the party affiliation of each candidate.
  • All registered voters are eligible to vote in every primary for every office within the jurisdiction where they legally reside.

For Congressional primaries, these special rules apply:

  • For primaries in elections for a single seat in Congress, the number of successful candidates is three.
  • The only way to appear on the general election ballot is to earn sufficient support in the primary to qualify for the general election. Therefore, the general election ballot for a seat in the Senate or House will have at most three names.
  • With a slight variation, RCV can be applied to primary elections. Naturally, each voter wants the list of successful primary candidates to include the voter’s preferred candidate, but, if the voter’s preferred candidate does not make the cut, the voter might very well want the list to include the voter’s 2nd or 3rd choice. This is the procedure for the primary election for a seat in Congress (either chamber):
Counting of ballots in primary elections for Congress[1]

The number of successful candidates in a primary election for one seat in Congress (House or Senate) is three.

  1. Count the 1st choice votes for each candidate, and rank order the results. Repeat steps 2 through 4 until only three candidates remain, or until three candidates each exceed 25% of the total vote. (Note: it is mathematically impossible for four candidates to exceed 25%.)
  2. Eliminate the candidate with the fewest votes.
  3. Reassign each vote for the eliminated candidate to each voter’s next highest choice for a candidate not yet eliminated.

If a ballot for the eliminated candidate contains no choice for a candidate not yet eliminated, then that ballot is exhausted and is no longer counted as part of the total vote.

The proposed rules on open primaries will allow all registered voters (Democrat, Republican, any 3rd party, or Independent) to participate in all primaries and will allow voters registered as Republican or Democrat to select a primary candidate from the opposite party. These changes can only be an improvement for our democracy.

Party Caucuses and Conventions

A caucus or a convention of Democrats or Republicans is much less likely to select a candidate acceptable to the entire electorate than a primary election open to all voters. Voters should select all general election candidates through primaries rather than caucuses and party conventions. Party activists will not like this change, of course; nonetheless, it would be good for our democracy.

Political parties may continue to hold elections for party offices, and they may hold caucuses and conventions at any level at their own expense. Such activities are completely independent from the public primary elections. Endorsement by a political party helps a candidate raise money and enlist volunteers for a campaign, but that endorsement gains nothing from a legal standpoint. That is, candidates must still qualify to appear on the primary ballot according to the rules of each state, and they must survive the primary to compete in the general election.

All Other Laws, Regulations, and Practices

Statutes and regulations should not favor political parties. Period.

The objective here is not to end political parties. As mentioned earlier, political parties can be quite useful in a democracy. Rather, the objective is to improve ballot access for all candidates, equitable treatment of all candidates, and inclusion of all voters.


[1] Appendix 1 summarizes the application of Ranked Choice Voting to various categories of elections.


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