This post is part of a continuing feature of independent candidate’s responses to roundtable questions posed by Independent Voters of America. Independent Voters of America has been reaching out to independent and third party candidates across the country to gather their opinions and insights on issues of interest to our community.
Open primaries, where all candidates for office are on the same ballot and the top two vote getters advance to the general election, are an interesting experiment for independent and third party candidates. In theory, “Top Two” primaries should be beneficial for independent voters and candidates alike as a solution to partisan gridlock: ballot access is equal, independent voters and candidates are allowed to participate, and more moderate options should emerge for the general election. In practice however, this has not always been the case – minor parties suffer, and independent and moderate voters need time to adapt to new electoral systems.
Louisiana, Washington, and California all have open primaries, and a ballot measure this November in Arizona could add a fourth state to the mix. For this roundtable, we’ve asked the following independent candidates their thoughts on the open primary system:
Linda Parks – Candidate for Congress in California’s 26th District
Mark Greene - Candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Washington
James Windle – Candidate for Congress in Washington’s 8th District
Mike Stauffer – Candidate for Sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona
Angus King - Candidate for Senate in Maine
The question posed to the candidates was:
Did your state’s electoral system factor into your decision to run as an Independent? Are you in favor of open, top two primaries?
Linda Parks: I very much support the open primary system, in fact I could not have run if California had not opened its primary because I would not have gotten either party’s endorsement.
Mark Greene: No, not at all. I happen to like the Top Two primary system here in Washington, because I think the major parties have less control of this system and it is egalitarian in the ballot sense. I also think that a non-major party or independent candidate stands a better chance of actually taking office under this system if they happen to make the Top Two as opposed to a tri-party (or numerous parties) General Election. Unlike critics of Top Two, I think it is not as unlikely as detractors like to paint for non-major party candidates to make the General Election — in fact, it has already happened, here, a number of times, although generally when one or the other of the major parties are very weak in a particular district. However, even if both major parties are strong or relatively strong, if there are strongly contested races within the individual major parties, an independent or 3rd party can win outright through the division of the vote, or through a better campaign, or better ideas.
James Windle: Absolutely, the “top-two” primary was a major factor. A top-two primary neutralizes some of the advantages the political parties have in House races. In a normal primary format, major parties select their candidates through conventions. The party organizations and all of their resources are then mobilized behind the selected candidate months before the general election. An Independent or third-party cannot realistically compete when each major party has put forward a fully-backed candidate. In the top-two primary system, however, the major political parties may be divided amongst themselves, fielding multiple candidates that often compete with each other for fundraising and talent. This provides a great opportunity for an Independent, who is not always confronting in the primary strong, consolidated party candidates.
Mike Stauffer: In Arizona, mayors, city council members, and school board members are elected under the open primary system. County, state, and national offices utilize the partisan primary system. I was aware that filing as an independent candidate would result in having to work harder for a place on the ballot. I favor an open primary system because I believe that the rules for ballot access should be the same for all candidates. Also, a non-partisan primary will break the partisan logjam that has been created in our state by bitter partisan politics.
I was required to collect 19,410 nominating petition signatures to get on the ballot. This is compared to 2700 for the Democratic candidates and 3500 for the Republican candidate (incumbent). The hard work and talent of our dedicated volunteer campaign staff has enabled the campaign to overcome the obstacles put in place to discourage independent candidates.
Angus King: Under Maine’s current primary system, I was able to successfully win two races for governor as an Independent, but I believe the independent thinking of Maine voters is more responsible for my success than any aspect of our electoral system. I do not know a great deal about the open, top two primary system at this time, but I am interested in learning more about it and the opportunities it could open up for independents in Maine.