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Is America in its Nonpartisan Primaries Era?

Three things to think about this July 20th

Ross Sherman
Press Director
July 20, 2023

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that an epic phenomenon has been sweeping football stadium crowds off their feet across the nation: Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. (I swear, there’s a point to this.) Last weekend, she performed two breathtaking shows in Unite America’s headquarter city of Denver. Needless to say, many of my colleagues are still basking in the post-concert glow.

The aptly-named tour is all about reflecting on and celebrating the phases of Taylor’s life and music. And just as the global popstar has revolutionized music with each new Era, our work is all about reimagining American democracy. We’re doing everything we can to make the coming years the Era of Nonpartisan Primaries.

1. Another day, another poll showing Americans are fed up with our broken democracy

While I’d love to continue down this pop-infused thread, we must return to our regularly-scheduled programming. A recent poll from the Associated Press starkly shows us why political reform is one of the most urgent causes of our day. There are a lot of alarming stats from the poll, but I want to highlight this disconnect: “About two-thirds of adults say policies on immigration, government spending, abortion policy and gun policy are not representative of most Americans’ views.”

That’s the whole problem in a nutshell, isn’t it? Right now, our elected lawmakers don’t represent the majority. As a regular reader of this newsletter, you probably know why: partisan primaries and noncompetitive general elections, what we call the Primary Problem. If we want politicians in office who will actually solve our country’s problems, and who aren’t beholden to the fringes, we need to move beyond partisan primaries. Alaska, California, Louisiana and Washington already have — and we’re supporting campaigns across the country to get more states to follow.

2. Unite America co-chair calls for instant runoffs in the presidential primary

Kent Thiry, former CEO of a Fortune 250 company, democracy reformer, and now co-chair of Unite America, penned an article last week in The Hill making a compelling case for fixing the presidential primary system. I don’t need to tell you that most of the country is recoiling at the prospect of a Biden vs. Trump rematch, yet that’s exactly what we seem to be headed toward.

The reason for this seemingly inevitable outcome is our broken primary system, where candidates can win with a minority of the vote. One powerful solution is for states to use an instant runoff system, also known as ranked choice voting (RCV). As Kent says in the piece,

“[RCV] is a system that can give the middle of America’s politics their voice and choice back. That is not a small feat.
"The good news is that voters are not nearly as polarized as our legislatures. In fact, most pundits have the causality exactly wrong: It is not a polarized electorate driving legislatures to the same spot; rather, polarized legislatures are driving the population into that corner.
State lawmakers and all of those who care about the future of this great country must work to support and institute ranked-choice voting for, at a minimum, primary elections — starting with the 2024 presidential primary. This system does not benefit one party over another. It benefits the candidates who appeal to the largest group of voters — and therefore benefits our democracy at a time when it’s needed most.”

3. No Labels and its critics are both missing the point. It’s the system, stupid.

Speaking of the presidential primary, you probably saw the deluge of news about No Labels this week. If not, here’s the scoop: No Labels is a bipartisan organization aiming to run a unity ticket for president in 2024. On Tuesday, they held a town hall in New Hampshire — the first primary state — to release their policy platform. Sen. Joe Manchin and former Gov. John Huntsman headlined the event, but several other prominent political leaders are involved with the group.

To put it mildly, No Labels’ effort has been polarizing. No Labels is absolutely right that Americans deserve better options and more competent leadership, but running a third-party candidate in our broken system is not the answer. No matter what, they’re going to be spoilers for one side or the other — and right now, polling shows that their candidacy could swing the election to former President Donald Trump. Recognizing this threat, Democrats and their allies are doing all they can to stop No Labels — even attempting to block them from the ballot in certain states (even though they got the signatures needed to qualify). That’s not exactly a good thing for democracy, either.

From our perspective, No Labels and their critics are missing the point. Riffing off of a popular political quote, “It’s the system, stupid.” In order to get better options on the ballot, which could include a future No Labels candidate, we need to reform our election system first. One viable option is using instant runoffs in presidential primaries and general elections.

As always, let us know what you think about Three Things Thursday and if you have ideas for future topics.