California: Election Innovation Extraordinaire

By Taylor Larson
Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman (middle) and former Senator Bob Bennett (right) take questions from the audience in today's session. Photo by Jill Van Wyke

Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman (middle) and former Senator Bob Bennett (right) take questions from the audience in today’s session. Photo by Jill Van Wyke

In today’s morning session at The Washington Center, my peers and I were lucky enough to witness a panel discussion from two senior fellows of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), former Utah Senator Bob Bennett and former Secretary of Agriculture and Congressman Dan Glickman. The pair discussed gridlock, bipartisanship, and made a suggestion for cohesion to the 114th Congress I had never considered: reform of the election process.

After having lost as an incumbent in the second round of Utah’s GOP primary in 2010, Senator Bennett was particularly enamored with the new Californian idea of eliminating gerrymandering (GASP!) and instituting a free-for-all “jungle primary.”

The concept is commonsense: First, voting districts represent real communities in California and are in no way in favor of the majority party or incumbents (something Iowa already does, not to brag).

Second, primaries include candidates from all parties; the two candidates who receive the most votes, no matter which party they are affiliated with, face off in the general election.

If one party is historically going to lose a district, Bennett explained, why not let them vote for the lesser of two evils?

In the most recent midterm, this meant a few incumbent California legislators faced opponents from their own parties… and lost.

The jungle primary changes the entire rhetoric of elections, pitting the “real Democrats” against the “pro-life Democrats” and the “real Republicans” against the “pro-union Republicans.”  Fundraising will undoubtedly be more difficult. Low voter turnout may be a realistic consequence.

But won’t this create a basis for bipartisan confidence in legislators? Doesn’t a jungle primary cause us to at least reconsider party lines?

Is a jungle primary part of the answer to creating bipartisanship in Washington?

Read more about California’s election reform here. Or here.

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