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Nonpartisan Primaries

How gerrymandering and the primary problem are related, why secretary of state races matter, and which state could be the newest to adopt nonpartisan primaries

Nonpartisan primaries in Montana, where Secretaries of State have come under attack, and how gerrymandering and our primary system are driving partisanship

Brett Maney
Sr. Communications Manager
March 3, 2022

Texas was the first state to hold their primary elections on Tuesday. For the parties, the primary was a bit of a bellwether for what the rest of the year might look like, and which wing of their respective parties might prove triumphant. For us, it was the latest example of the primary problem, in which partisan primaries and gerrymandered districts empower a small fraction of voters to play an outsized role in determining the eventual winner of an election.

ICYMI, we posted a blog ahead of Tuesday’s primary with everything we were watching out for, both in Texas, and nationally. We’ll be tracking everything primary related (and #PrimaryProblem related) throughout the year. More to come…

In the meantime, here are three things to think about this week. 

  1. Caustic cousins disenfranchising voters

At play in Texas, and indeed across the country, are new legislative maps that have even further split and divided communities for the benefit of the two parties. The practice of gerrymandering further pushes the primary problem to its extremes, giving significant power to the majority party’s base of supporters that turnout in primary elections.

In Real Clear Politics this week, Unite America’s Executive Director Nick Troiano writes about partisan primaries driving this dysfunction, as Texas incumbents are primaried by candidates to their extreme flanks. As Nick says, “While most attention this midterm season will focus on the outcome of an albeit fewer number of competitive congressional races, we must not lose sight of the fact that our country’s future hinges not just on whom we elect – but how we elect.”

According to our team’s analysis, so far (with some votes still coming in, and costly runoffs ahead)–just 5% of all Texas voters cast primary ballots that will effectively decide 95% of the state’s congressional elections. Follow along at as we track the partisan primary season this year.

  1. S.O.S., for real

It’s a topic we’ve written about before in these Things: across the country, secretaries of state — the statewide elected position most commonly responsible for overseeing and certifying elections — have come under attack, challenged by conspiracy theorists who are undermining the integrity of the 2020 elections. From Georgia to Arizona, individuals are running for secretary of state who would attempt to overturn the results of an election, armed with disinformation and empowered by the primary problem. 

This is one of the most immediate existential threats facing our Republic. If our elections fall into the hands of conspiracy theorists and individuals who are more loyal to a party or a man than they are to the people they are elected to serve, we may never be able to regain the trust and integrity we need to ensure our democratic systems work. Read the Washington Post’s full deep dive here.

  1. Big sky and nonpartisan primaries

Finally, I turn your attention to Montana, where two former elected officials, former Gov. Marc Racicot (R) and former Secretary of State Bob Brown (now an independent, formerly a Republican) are pushing for the state to adopt nonpartisan primaries in an effort to curb extremism. Pointing to similar systems in Louisiana, Washington, and Alaska, Racicot and Brown argue that nonpartisan primaries could give voters a greater chance to understand candidates and select those whose values most closely line up with their own. 

As Brown argues, nonpartisan primaries “give more authority to the people and take power away from political bosses” — a concept that legislators on both sides would seemingly agree with. Read more about why these two legislators are taking a step back into the spotlight to push for the reform and about why they support it here