In Arizona this year we have Proposition 121 on the ballot. It’s called the Open Elections/Open Government Act. It also goes by the name of the Top 2 Primary Initiative. If the Proposition is approved by voters, Arizona's constitution will be amended to modify the electoral process at the state level.
Rather than primary elections that are open only to those affiliated with a political party, all voters will be eligible to vote in an open primary regardless of affiliation or lack of affiliation. The same would apply to candidates. An unlimited number could compete on the same ballot regardless of affiliation or lack of affiliation. The top 2 candidates by popular vote in the primary would proceed to the general election in November.
The Top 2 Primary System must be fully explained and understood to see how it could change the partisan nature of our political system. I compare it to the electoral process used in some European countries like France. Don’t breathe a word of that to anyone. Americans have an inexplicable antipathy to all things European.
The idea is to have as many candidates as needed in the primary so that 100% of the electorate has a candidate it could support conscientiously. The full spectrum of choices available would increase voter turnout. The state legislature districts are small enough to have distinctive demographics in various parts of the state. The number of candidates representing all interest groups would splinter the vote so that the top 2 who proceed to the general election would be able to do so even with a small base. In France, for example, the top 2 by popular vote in the primary might have only 20% - 25% of votes cast.
A general election between two candidates who received only 23% and 18%, for example, as the top 2 in the primary might seem problematic. It works because the candidates are expected to form coalitions with their former competitors in the primary, based on affinity. They have to form a coalition to reach the 50% + 1 majority to win in the general election. Strategy is important. If a top 2 candidate wants the endorsement of a former competitor, he can have it if he offers to support that candidate’s platform. This is how alternative parties, independents, and unaffiliated voters can use leverage to get representation for their agenda. In the general election, voters are expected to remember strategy to choose the candidate who represents their own interests most closely. In other words, voters don’t flounce. If they do, they betray their own interests.
Contrast this system with what we do now. Having third parties in the general election is ineffective. It splinters the vote at the wrong time in the electoral process. The third party gains no leverage for playing the role of spoiler. Voting for a third party to “send a message” is a popular notion but it doesn’t really advance the interest the party promotes. The agenda of third parties is locked out of participation in our imitation of democracy. That can be corrected by loading third party activity at the front end of the electoral process in the primary. Either the third party will gain enough votes to proceed as one of the top 2 or it will get support for its agenda because it has something to give, namely the votes of its members. This bargaining process is absent from the American electoral system today.
The two party system isn’t operating to the full satisfaction of many voters today. Alternative parties don’t thrive and establish permanence. By rolling out the top 2 primary system at the state level there’s at least a chance of beginning an evolution to a more democratic system that will provide true representation for everyone.
Here’s a Youtube video explaining the advantages of the Top 2 Primary system.