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May the nonpartisan primaries guide you

Three things to think about this May 4th

Alana Persson
Digital Marketing Associate
May 4, 2023

Happy May the Fourth! Today, I can't help but think of the legendary Star Wars phrase, "May the Force be with you." And this year, it got me thinking — what if we applied that same sentiment to the world of politics? It's the Voters First movement meets the Jedi Order, with a dash of election reform thrown in for good measure.

Like, "may the voters be with you."

Or, "may the nonpartisan primaries guide you."

It’s all in good fun, of course. The point is that there’s clearly the makings of a movement — yes, a “force” — to put voters first. We see hints of it when 49 percent of voters say identify as independent. In what direction does that point the country?

So, May the Fourth be with you, always, as we work towards an improved primary system that puts all eligible voters on a level playing field.

1. Unite America’s Richard Barton on Louisiana and the benefits of eliminating partisan primaries

It’s been a half-century since Louisiana eliminated partisan primaries. That’s significant for researchers such as Unite America democracy fellow Richard Barton, an assistant professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, because it provides plenty of election cycles and legislative sessions and governorships to answer the question: So what kind of effect does this reform have on voters and governing, exactly?

The response is important, as newer nonpartisan primary states (Washington, California, Alaska) and potential ones (e.g., Nevada) build momentum for nonpartisan primaries across the country.

Barton’s first-of-its-kind research resulted in the report, “Louisiana’s Long-Term Election Experiment” — and he wrote about his findings for Governing magazine this week:

A viable solution that is gaining traction across the country is replacing partisan primaries with nonpartisan primaries, in which all candidates (Democratic, Republican, independent and third party) compete directly against each other and all eligible voters can participate. Three states — Alaska, California and Washington — have done this in one form or another for all state and federal elections. And Nevada voters could make their state the fourth nonpartisan-primary state through an initiative on the ballot next year.
How can we tell if these reforms are working? The increasing rate of their expansion hasn’t left the public — including researchers such as myself or the average voter — with much information to judge. That is, with one exception: Louisiana, which did away with the party primary system altogether back in the 1970s. My research about the state in the wake of this change, the first study of its kind, shows that Louisiana has reduced polarization, improved governance and even bettered resident health.

Read more here (and be on the lookout for more of this kind of research and commentary from us in the year ahead).

2. Pennsylvania lawmakers introduce a bill that will open primaries to independent voters 

Pennsylvania's upcoming closed primary contests are only open to registered Democrats and Republicans, leaving around 1.2 million unaffiliated and independent voters unable to cast ballots. However, a bipartisan pair of state senators, Dan Laughlin (R) and Lisa Boscola (D), have introduced legislation that, if passed, would allow these unaffiliated voters to participate in future taxpayer-funded primary elections. Speaking to the need for open primaries, Boscola stated: 

“Look outside of Pennsylvania and you will see that most states have open primaries, and it hasn’t created chaos. In fact, it empowers more voters and will likely increase voter participation. That’s a good thing.”  

Pennsylvania is one of only nine states blanketly prohibiting independent voters from participating in primary elections. The lawmakers argue that opening the primaries would increase voter participation and engagement and provide a "try-before-you-buy" option for independent voters who might join one of the Big Two parties. Election reform advocates have long called for a change in the state's closed primary system, citing its undemocratic nature and the lack of representation for independent voters whose tax dollars help cover the cost of the primaries.

3. “The primary problem in politics, in general, is literally the primary problem…” 

Yup, you heard it correctly! Last week,NBC news correspondent Dasha Burns stated on live television: “The primary problem in Republican politics and politics, in general, is literally the Primary Problem.” That term might’ve sounded new to many Americans watching; however, to us here at Unite America, it’s what we have known to be true for a couple of years now!

And not only that, Burns connected reforms such as ranked choice voting as a solution to the Primary Problem. For us, seeing this coverage was exciting and validating — it’s not just us saying it anymore, but news anchors talking about it all on their own. Moments like these indicate that our reforms are working and pushing the needle in the right direction. 

Check out the video clip here.