[EM] Open primary

Tom Ruen tomruen at itascacg.com
Fri Apr 13 02:45:59 PDT 2001


I hadn't really thought about this much, but a primary is already used as a
pre-runoff in nonpartisan elections in Minnesota.  Specifically in my city
council, for the primary, voters each get up to one vote per open seat, and
the totals are used to reduce the set of candidates to twice the number of
seats open.

For partisan primary elections, Minnesota (as like most states I assume)
makes people vote only for all candidates of one party, or their ballot is
spoiled. The theory is that parties don't want supporters of the opposite
party voting for the overall less popular (or more extreme) of two
candidates hoping that candidate will pass the primary and not get the
independent votes to win the general election.

I guess this has always been a strategy available in any runoff process - I
think of party endorsement runoffs. If there are 3 candidates and my
favorite is known to be strong, but expected to lose to a compromise
candidate if a political opposite is eliminated, there is a strategic value
for some supporters to insincerely support the another candidate hoping the
moderate will be eliminated first. Of course there's risk since if too many
do this, one's favorite might be eliminated! This works well for such voters
because they can switch back when the feared compromise candidate is
eliminated - ranked ballots (in IRV) in a single vote wouldn't allow this

Well, in fact, I know this strategy is used in endorsement elections for
candidates who will run in the primary anyway - supporters are best off
transferring their vote to the a weaker (less money or more extreme)
candidate who can win the endorsement and hopefully lose the primary! The
final strategy (when it is clear one's favorite won't be endorsed) becomes
to try to eliminate the strong candidates that have promised to not run in
the primary if not endorsed!

So, well I think I agree that open primaries used as a top-two prerunoff is
much better than party primaries. This would significantly raise turnout in
a primary too. Currently each party can safely advance one candidate, so if
your party has only one candidate running, there's no reason to vote. These
idle voters are the ones making the problems with party primaries anyway. It
is interesting since it becomes possible, for example in a very urban
congressional district for instance, that two democrats could win the


P.S. Once, related thoughts to nonpartisan elections like city council: If a
general election has 2 open seats, and voters can vote for two candidates,
and a "primary" will allow 4 candidates to go on to the general election,
then you can consider it a "4 seat/winner" primary. Four winners means four
votes, right?! This sounds like backdoor logic to get approval voting into
open primaries! This is, IN FACT, pure approval w/runoff! Very interesting!

----- Original Message -----
From: "Anthony Simmons" <asimmons at krl.org>
To: <election-methods-list at eskimo.com>
Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2001 9:08 PM
Subject: [EM] Open primary

> >> From: LAYTON Craig
> >> Subject: RE: Mixed Condorcet-Plurality
> >> US primaries are a very unique phenomenon,
> >> especially where people who aren't part of a
> >> particular political party can rock up and
> >> vote for who will be the official candidate of
> >> that political party.  For those of us who are
> >> more used to the Westminster tradition, this
> >> seems a little silly.  It's like letting
> >> anyone (not just shareholders) vote for the
> >> board of directors of a company.  I nominate
> >> Fidel Castro to be Director of Microsoft.
> In Washington State, USA, where I live, we
> currently have an open primary, where anyone can
> vote for any candidate in any party primary The
> Supreme Court just decided that we can't do that
> any more.  But the current system is very popular
> here, and they want to preserve as much of it as
> possible.  So now they have come up with
> something called the "Washington Primary", in
> which all candidates run in a single big election
> in the primary, and the first and second place
> candidates run in the final.  In other words, two
> round runoff.  No more primary.
> Not that big a change.

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