Open Primaries

New York

What is Election Turnout so Low in N.Y. compared to California?

California and New York are both solid blue states. They both have major urban areas. They are both affluent. Yet in districts with competitive Congressional primaries in 2018, New York had an average voter turnout of 27,401, while similar districts in California had an average turnout of 200,962. Since Congressional districts have the same number of people, this means the turnout in California was 7.3x the turnout in New York.

           2018 Primary Congressional Elections         

     NEW YORK                CALIFORNIA 
District       Votes	District            Votes
 2             12,771	    1	            190,371
 5             13,548       2               198,684
 9	       30,551       4	            211,571
14	       29,778	   12	            206,382
16	       30,078      30               128,471
21	       19,618  	   33	            163,001
23	       23,501  	   45	            167,957 
24	       23,855	   48	            174,024
25	       35,509	   52	            167,236

Average        27,401     Average           200,962	
	

There are a few major differences between New York and California:

New York has closed primaries, so only party members can vote. This means independents cannot participate.10 of the 27 districts had no primaries, depriving even members of each party of a choice.

More significantly, in N.Y. there have been two days for primaries: one for state races and one for national races. By dividing the primaries into two days, voters have been confused and discouraged from voting. Fortunately, the N.Y. State Legislature and Governor Cuomo have remedied this issue by passing a law in which the primaries will be on the same day. This should help increase turnout in the future.
California has non-partisan primaries, so anyone from any party can run and anyone from any party can vote. This has led to much higher turnouts in primaries and competitive general elections.

Which state do you think has the better democracy? The state where 27,401 people turn out to vote in the primary or the state in which 200,962 people turn out to vote?

At Reform Elections Now, we support non-partisan primaries, such as those in California. We oppose closed primaries, such as those in New York.

However, we believe that numbers often speak louder than words. What these numbers show is simple: New Yorkers are turned off by their electoral system, while Californians are turned on.

We believe the N.Y. State Legislature and Governor Cuomo have taken some positive steps in increase voter participation. However, we still believe that the closed primaries are a detriment to our Democracy, and that non-partisan primaries, such as those used in California are a good alternative.

Here is an Op-Ed Piece Written for the N.Y. Times by Chuck Schumer, a Democratic Senator from N.Y. and the Senate Minority Leader

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
End Partisan Primaries, Save America
By Charles E. Schumer
• July 21, 2014

WASHINGTON — POLARIZATION and partisanship are a plague on American politics.
Political scientists have found that the two parties have each grown more ideologically homogeneous since the 1970s. The Senate hasn’t been so polarized since Reconstruction; the House has not been so divided since around 1900. As measured by laws passed, the current Congress is on track to be among the least productive in our republic’s history.
How did this happen? One of the main causes has not gotten enough attention: the party primary system.
The reasons behind the shocking primary defeat last month of Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who was then leader of the Republican majority in the House, are still being debated, but there is no doubt that his defeat highlighted the pernicious effects of the predominant “winner-take-all” party primary system. Even in one of the country’s most Republican districts, Mr. Cantor was not conservative enough for the fairly small proportion of highly energized, ideologically driven voters who turned out for the primary. The partisan primary system, which favors more ideologically pure candidates, has contributed to the election of more extreme officeholders and increased political polarization. It has become a menace to governing.
From 10,000 feet, the structure of our electorate looks to be healthy, with perhaps a third of the potential voters who are left-leaning Democrats, a third who are right-leaning Republicans and a third who are independents in the middle.
But primaries poison the health of that system and warp its natural balance, because the vast majority of Americans don’t typically vote in primaries. Instead, it is the “third of the third” most to the right or most to the left who come out to vote — the 10 percent at each of the two extremes of the political spectrum. Making things worse, in most states, laws prohibit independents — who are not registered with either party and who make up a growing proportion of the electorate — from voting in primaries at all.
The phenomenon of primaries’ pulling people to the extremes seems more prevalent in the Republican Party, where centrists and moderates are increasingly rare, as a result of a combination of factors since the 1970s — the shift of Southern states toward Republican control, the mobilization of evangelical voters around social issues, anti-tax movements in California and elsewhere, and the rise of conservative talk radio and other news media. But the dynamic could easily expand to include the Democrats, who have at times been pulled too far to the left, for example on issues like crime and welfare’s excesses in the 1980s.
Two additional factors exacerbate the problem of party primaries. The first are the deep-pocketed interests that often lie at the extremes. The loosening of campaign finance restrictions by the Supreme Court has unleashed a flood of “independent” political spending by these special interests.
The second is the redistricting process. Technology has allowed parties that dominate their state legislatures to draw districts that will almost never elect a candidate of the opposing party. Each party maneuvers, once a decade, to manipulate the boundaries to its advantage. One of the reasons the Senate is, for all its flaws, still more moderate than the House is that there is no redistricting, since senators are elected statewide.
Primary election rules are not immutably ingrained in our politics. Before the McGovern-Fraser Commission — formed after the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, which was marred by conflict over the Vietnam War — primaries were not even a major component of electoral politics in most states. Both parties adopted many of the commission’s recommendations, which were intended to weaken the power of party bosses. But today, with the decline of party-machine power, the polarization that divides the parties seems a far greater threat than establishment “bosses.”

We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.
California, which probably mirrors the diversity of America more than any other state, was racked by polarization until voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that adopted a “top-two” primary system. The move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern. Louisiana has used a similar system since the 1970s, and Washington State since 2008. Voters in Colorado and Oregon will consider proposals later this year.
If it works in these states, it can work in others. In late June, Senator Thad Cochran, a conservative Mississippi Republican, won a runoff primary over an even more conservative challenger, Chris McDaniel, with the support of Democrats, many of them African-American, who crossed over to vote for him.
While there are no guarantees, it seems likely that a top-two primary system would encourage more participation in primaries and undo tendencies toward default extremism. It would remove the incentive that pushes our politicians to kowtow to the factions of their party that are most driven by fear and anger. For those of us who are in despair over partisanship and polarization in Congress, reform of the primary system is a start.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, was elected to the House in 1980 and to the Senate in 1998.

Florida: “All Voters Vote” is organizing a ballot initiative, requiring petition signatures, led by a consultant, Steve Vancour. The intent is to get something on the ballot for 2020 for implementation in 2022. However, there is perhaps a greater opportunity that does not require either state constitution amendment or legislation:

The Democratic Party in Miami/Dade County is considering opening its primary to Independents, and proposing a similar action at the State Party meeting in Oct, 2019. This would apply to the 2020 Presidential primaries, and beyond. 23% of Florida voters are Independents.

MO 2019-06

Missouri: This was a more immediate effort, of a defensive nature, to head off an initiative that has been passed by the Missouri House to revert to Closed Primaries! They needed a few more votes to get the proposal into the Senate‘Open Primaries’ organized a grassroots campaign to alert voters of the risk to moderates to lose their right to vote in party primaries. Our organization worked through its network to reach influential citizens of Missouri to make visible the risk. The Missouri House bill, which had been passed twice (Missouri process requires three votes), was taken off the table, thereby resolving the threat, at least for now. Wyoming and Tennessee have defeated in 2018 similar efforts to regress in election reform.

MO 2019-06

Maine: From an “Open Primaries” Newsletter: “

“According to Kaitlin LaCasse of Open Primaries Maine:

“On Tuesday, LD 211, “An Act to Open Maine’s Primaries” fell just two votes short of passage in the Maine Senate. This was the first semi-open primaries bill to receive a floor vote in the Maine Senate and it received bipartisan support, with 4 Republicans and 12 Democrats voting in support, including Senate President Troy Jackson.

70% of Mainers support open primaries, and activists across the state condemned the legislature’s inaction.” Maybe we can mobilize earlier for the next opportunity in Maine. MO 2019-06

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