Five-Part Series on Primaries
By Valerie Emmert
Part V: How Do We Fix the System?
As you contemplate the state of our election system, with Washington DC awash in money that drowns out constituent voices, jerrymandering that protects ideologues from being fired by the people, and decreasing party affiliation producing increasing extremism, you might feel hopeless that the direction can be reversed.
Some have suggested term limits as a solution. Although term limits would provide more opportunity and incentive for increased citizen candidacies, big donors would still make their donations, and the safe districts would still exist as a barrier to broad-based candidate appeal in general elections.
Some politicians who hold grudges afer losing primaries to less moderate candidates have embarked on a crusade against the primary system itself, proposing that all candidates appear on the same ballot in a primary regardless of party and that unaffiliated voters vote in these primaries without having to affiliate. Not only would such a system do nothing to eliminate the influence of the donor class over the behavior of elected officials, but would, in fact, do great harm to the competitive underpinnings of our election system, ultimately killing the two-party system. Instead, we should dedicate ourselves to a plan that would invigorate the primary system, which would likewise strengthen the competitiveness of our general elections and empower the electorate.
For such a plan to succeed, both parties would naturally play a pivotal role. First, each party’s precinct representatives would need to commit themselves to engaging with the unaffiliated citizens in the precincts, promoting the importance of primary participation and encouraging affiliation. Encouraging voters to choose the party that BEST represents their political position on issues rather than disengaging because neither party TOTALLY represents those positions, is the key to forcing primary candidates toward the center of each party. As a result, general election candidates must move even closer to the center to win voters away from each other. As a result, the candidate ultimately elected has more common ground with constituents and colleagues and is therefore in a better position to compromise on legislation.
Additionally, each party must fill central committee vacancies with precinct representatives who are committed to ongoing engagement with voters coupled with a determination to actively participate in all county party meetings in order to maintain citizen control of funding and endorsement of candidates, thereby keeping the donor class and candidates in check.
We all have a responsibility to safeguard the continuation of the American experiment that is our Republic. By allowing ourselves to disengage from this civic duty out of frustration with the power struggle inherent to political life, we passively condone the incremental dismantling of what our forefathers sacrificed so dearly to bring forth.