[Editor’s note: The following essay was written by former New York Times Washington, DC bureau chief, frequent NC Policy Watch contributor and all-around legendary journalist, Hedrick Smith. It originally appeared on Smith’s own website, Reclaim the American Dream.]
WASHINGTON– With the election just days away, are you getting tired of the scaremongering and mud-slinging in the presidential campaign? How about some good news for a change?
Good news about political reforms to make American elections fairer, more transparent, and more inclusive, and to help rebuild the political middle, so desperately missing in today’s bitterly polarized politics.
From the mainstream media, you’d never know anything was happening, but from Florida to Alaska, and in states like Missouri, Massachusetts, and Virginia, grassroots citizen movements are pushing for adoption of political reforms on Nov. 3, and were it not for the coronavirus, there would be a lot more.
What made it onto the ballot are different reforms in different states. But they share some very important common threads – more voice and choice for average voters and more ways to combat political extremism and rebuild the political middle.
Independent voters want more voice
One strategy is to give more voice and clout to political independents – the fastest growing group on our political landscape, the mass of Americans in the middle who have become disenchanted with political parties and partisan warfare.
Back in 2004, only 27% of Americans identified themselves as political independents to the Gallup Poll. This fall that number has shot up to 42% and it’s even higher (44%) among younger voters under 40. And of course, that boom means that our two big parties have been shrinking – Republicans down from 38% to 28%, Democrats down from 35% to 27%.
But there’s a fly in the ointment. That burgeoning mass of independents is shut out of party primaries that are often the decisive elections for congress, the state legislature, and other offices. And independents want in on the action.
Take Florida, which now has more than 3.6 million independents – NPA’s, they call them, No Partisan Affiliation. In the Sunshine State this year, a broad grassroots movement called All Voters Vote is campaigning for the adoption of a non-partisan primary for all statewide offices and the legislature to open the door to independent voters and to reduce the “partisan extremism” that is fostered by political party primaries.
What the Florida reformers propose is one big, wide-open primary election where Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, all candidates compete and all voters vote, including independents. The top two vote-getters for each office in the primary qualify for the general election. No party gets a lock on any office.
Alaska – attacking dark money and party primaries
Five thousand miles away in Alaska, they’ve got an even more ambitious reform plan. With more than 54% of Alaskan voters declaring no party affiliation, a trans-partisan citizens coalition, Alaskan for Better Elections, is also calling for a non-partisan primary election, open to all six of Alaska’s political parties, to be followed by a so-called “instant runoff ” using rank choice voting in the general election. Read more