Newsweek’s latest issue carries this column by its columnist Jonathan Alter, in favor of “top-two” election systems. Here is his column, which is titled, “The Jackass-Reduction Plan.”
Here is the text of a letter Ballot Access News has just sent to Jonathan Alter, outlining six reasons why he should change his mind:
1. “Top-two” helps incumbents and does not “reduce jackasses.” When it was used for the first time in Washington state in 2008, out of 123 state legislative races, only one incumbent was defeated in the primary, and his reputation at the time of the primary was such that he probably would have been defeated under any election system.
2. Corrupt special interests were the top financial backers when the “top-two” initiative (Prop. 62) qualified for the California ballot in 2004. The leading financial backer was Countrywide Home Loans, which at the time was the nation’s biggest home mortgage lender, but which no longer exists, having been bought out by Bank of America in 2008. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countrywide_financial_political_loan_scandal (here is a link) for an account of one aspect of Countrywide’s behavior, giving cheap loans to important politicians. Separate from that, Countrywide was sued by 10 states for tricking people into taking out mortgages with disguised adjustable rates, something highlighted in Michael Moore’s new film opening October 2, “Capitalism: a Love Story.” Big business executives favored “top-two” because it screens out from the general election candidates who didn’t have the financial advantages to place first or second in the first round.
3. “Top-two” wipes minor party and independent candidates out of the general election campaign season. This was shown when Washington state used the system for the first time in 2008. For the first time since Washington became a state, no minor party or independent candidates appeared on the November ballot in any congressional election or any statewide state office election.
4. The system may well be unconstitutional. On August 20, 2009, a U.S. District Court in Washington state said the system may be unconstitutional and set the stage for new briefings and a probable trial.
5. “Top-two” greatly increases the cost of campaigning, because it forces candidates to run, in effect, two campaigns in front of the entire electorate (assuming they qualify for the second round).
6. “Top-two” is not favored by people who have studied election systems. Political Science Professor Paul Gronke, of Reed College, posed a question to all 600 political scientists on the Political Methodology listserve, asking how many support “top-two”. Only one political scientist replied in the affirmative. Professor Gronke participated in debates last year when Oregon voters were deciding whether to vote for “top-two”. Gronke opposed the ballot measure, which was defeated 2-1.
Another paragraph in BAN’s letter to Jonathan Alter, not reproduced here, explains why he should not refer to “top-two” as the “open primary.”