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Open Primaries

The primary system we use to choose candidates in the United States is broken, but there's a proven way to make it better.

A tiny fraction of possible voters get to choose who is actually running for office. It's what happens in most state and federal elections across the country; if you're a registered Republican, you get to vote in the primaries for that party. Democrat? Same.

But what if you're among the more than 40% of voters (and half of all millennials) who are independent?

In many states, you have to actually register as a member of a party in order to vote in the primary.


If registering as a member of a party you don't necessarily agree with on many issues rubs you the wrong way, join the club.

Image of the George W. Norris chamber via Nebraska Legislature.

Are there any solutions to this problem?

Some states, like Nebraska, have taken a different approach — and it's working much better.

John Opdycke, the president of Open Primaries, explained in a recent Atlantic interview, how this alternative system truly breaks the mold.

"[The primaries] don't just determine party nominees," he said. "They determine the shape and the tenor and tone of the campaign, the issues that are on the table, the coalitions that are on the table."

How so? Let's explore 3 ways they do that.


1. Open primaries, where anyone can vote for any candidate regardless of party registration

It means that candidates have to appeal to all voters, not simply the ones in their party, to end up on the final ballot.

This leads to...

2. A general election ballot without party affiliation where voters choose between the top two candidates.

It also means that the people get things they want accomplished by their lawmakers — despite political affiliations of the parties. In the case of Nebraska, a legislature comprised of 35 Republicans, 13 Democrats, and 1 independent accomplished a raise in the minimum wage, immigration reform, abolishing the death penalty, and raising the gas tax, among other things.

Imagine that happening in a state where the primaries are like they are for most of the country?

3. A non-partisan unicameral legislature where politicians work together

A unicameral legislature is something that rather flips the traditional voting narrative on its head, and it's opening some eyes. Definitively, unicameral legislature means one chamber of house, rather than two divided ones.

With no formal party alignments or caucuses, it allows coalitions to form issue by issue. This way, every bill gets an open and public committee hearing regardless of the member's party status.

GIF from Open Primaries/Why America Needs Nonpartisan Elections.


Here's a short clip with some sound reasons why it's working for Nebraska.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

When schools closed early in the spring, the entire country was thrown for a loop. Parents had to figure out what to do with their kids. Teachers had to figure out how to teach students at home. Kids had to figure out how to navigate a totally new routine that was being created and altered in real time.

For many families, it was a big honking mess—one that many really don't want to repeat in the fall.

But at the same time, the U.S. hasn't gotten a handle on the coronavirus pandemic. As states have begun reopening—several of them too early, according to public health officials—COVID-19 cases have risen to the point where we now have more cases per day than we did during the height of the outbreak in the spring. And yet President Trump is making a huge push to get schools to reopen fully in the fall, even threatening to possibly remove funding if they don't.

It's worth pointing out that Denmark and Norway had 10 and 11 new cases yesterday. Sweden and Germany had around 300 each. The U.S. had 55,000. (And no, that's not because we're testing thousands of times more people than those countries are.)

The president of the country's largest teacher's union had something to say about Trump's push to reopen schools. Lily Eskelsen Garcia says that schools do need to reopen, but they need to be able to reopen safely—with measures that will help keep both students and teachers from spreading the virus and making the pandemic worse. (Trump has also criticized the CDCs "very tough & expensive guidelines" for reopening schools.)

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