‘Top-2’ primary is like candy — offers quick satisfaction but ultimately rots teeth
Published: October 5, 2012 at 8:56 am
Thank you for the informative article “Other states with top-2 primaries show mixed results” from the Sept. 21 issue of the Arizona Capitol Times. The piece presented a number of pros and cons of the top-two system based on both actual results and expectations from other states.
While it was fairly comprehensive and included some of the League of Women Voters of Arizona’s concerns about more money and actually greater party power in primaries, it did not include the principal reasons that the League is opposing the measure — Proposition 121 — on our November ballot.
We have a sincere appreciation for the dissatisfaction supporters have with the fact that the views of a majority of Arizonans are not well- represented. We understand that they are looking for “moderation” in their legislators. However, civility and compromise are more productive goals than trying to eliminate all other views that are not somehow defined as “moderate.”
We believe that writing election laws for the purpose of a particular outcome does not make for good public policy, especially when there are better alternatives that do not disenfranchise any voters and actually open up the election system to candidates and voters.
Contrary to what is often presented, Prop. 121 is not a small step toward a better system, but one with negative consequences, particularly for independents and third-party voters and candidates.
Worse yet, it risks all this and offers much less voter choice for the general election.
We wish that supporters of Prop. 121, when initially considering changes to election laws, had done a more thorough study of the options and not chosen to go with the “hot” new “reform” for election laws.
The League believes there are several different ideas that would meet the goals of the supporters without reducing voter choice in the general election. Some of these include:
1. Easing independent candidate ballot access in Arizona and repealing the sore loser law.
2. Instant runoff voting for single-seat elections or American-style proportional representation with multi-seats. Both can be done with a ranked choice voting system either in primaries or to replace them, but still eliminate the spoiler effect while electing the candidate with the most overall support.
3. Even a top-two election based on the Louisiana model would be a small improvement. All candidates run in a general November election and if no candidate receives 50 percent, a runoff is held in December.
The top-two system on the November Arizona ballot is like candy; it offers quick satisfaction but ultimately rots your teeth. Top-two may do serious long-term harm to representative democracy in Arizona. So why would we risk it when there are actually better solutions?
With a ranked ballot, voters have far more choice, candidates who appeal to the broadest majority do better, negative campaigning is not rewarded and it does not shut out the voices of new challengers and third parties. Serious reforms are like good vegetables, compared to the candy of top-two.
The League has been working to educate residents about this option and to get ranked choice onto the ballot and will continue to do so. If top-two wins, however, those healthier changes may be pushed back many years.
— Barbara Klein, president, League of Women Voters of Arizona.
— Bonnie Saunders, immediate past president, LWV Arizona.
— Ann Eschinger, former president, LWV Arizona.