Manifolds, Manolos, and Manure
Article three, Section three of the Illinois Constitution provides that all elections shall be free and equal. Although this provision has varied slightly in versions of the Constitution, it generally means that qualified voters may freely express their vote and that each person’s vote has the same influence as their neighbor’s.
What the Constitution doesn’t speak to is society’s prevalent negativity. Rampant partisanship. Deep ideological divisions among voters. An article in Pew Research highlights that voters just don’t view political parties negatively, they view individuals in those parties negatively. Regardless of political affiliation, individuals view others with different political views as closed-minded, dishonest, immoral, and unintelligent. Perhaps what’s most worrisome is that despite negative partisanship being at an all-time high, it continues to increase.
Also at an all-time high is frustration with the two-party system and political parties themselves. Neither party is popular with the public. Which of course begs the question, are political parties still relevant?
Is Illinois’ open primary system still the best approach? Simply stated, Illinois’ primary exists so voters can choose which candidate they think should represent the party in the general election. In Illinois, voters don’t have to register with a party but they do have to select a Republican or Democrat ballot at the time of voting in a Primary Election.
Open primaries are a primary in which voters don’t have to formally affiliate with a party but may have to select a party ballot at election time. Twenty-one states, including Illinois, operate with an open primary.
USA Today once argued that open primaries produce more moderate candidates, candidates that can win in the general election. Additionally, open primaries are thought to bring people together and to promote accountability. On the flip side, Andrew Gripp penned a piece for the Independent Voter Network that argues that parties’ freedom of association is violated by forcing voters to select a ballot. In a separate piece, on a separate day, a party chairperson suggested that open primaries enable political parties to sabotage the nominating process of other parties. Hello shell candidates. Candidates with similar names. Candidates from one political party who run with the other designation behind their name. Queue Illinois politics.
Alternates to an open primary are a closed primary and a semi-closed primary. In a closed primary a voter must formally affiliate with a political party before the election. Whereas in a semi-closed primary unaffiliated voters may participate in the partisan primary of their choice. They all kinda sound similar, don’t they?
Perhaps the two most interesting alternatives are a top-two primary and a top-four primary. In a top-two primary all candidates are listed on the same primary ballot and the top two vote getters regardless of their party affiliation advance to the general election. Similarly, a top-four primary advances the top four vote getters to the general election.
Arguments for these types of primary center around the idea that top-two or top-four primaries can mitigate the influence of political parties while bolstering the voices of voters. Chicago uses a somewhat similar process for their municipal elections. Proponents argue that top-two or top-four primaries have the potential to advance more moderate candidates to the general election. Reduce political parties’ influence. Eliminate having to declare a party at election day. And offer more voting choices.