A bipartisan group of Wisconsin legislators has introduced a proposal to push both parties toward moderation. It’s a good start.
It’s no accident that two of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump were from Washington State. Washington is one of a few states that has reformed its primary system in a way that favors moderation.
As both parties have developed more intensely activist populist wings, candidates in party primaries have found it necessary to move to the right or left to capture their party’s nomination or to stay in power. Add extreme partisan gerrymandering to the equation and you get what we’ve got: polarization.
One obvious solution is competitive districts and this year will tell the tale for the next decade as all 50 states must redraw congressional and legislative districts after the last census. That data will be delayed this time around and will not become available until September. In Wisconsin, it seems to me that the only way to assure fair maps is for Gov. Tony Evers to insist on it as part of his budget, but it looks like he’s already decided to pass on that opportunity.
But next to fair maps, the best way to reform the system to favor moderation is to do what Washington does: allow the two top vote getters in a primary to move on to the general election, regardless of party. That system produced Reps. Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Butler. Not only did they vote to impeach Trump, but it does not appear that they endangered their political futures by doing so. By contrast, many of the other eight have been sanctioned by their state parties and face almost certain brutal primaries with attacks coming from the far right.
Now, a bill that would go even beyond Washington’s system has just been introduced in the Wisconsin legislature. This legislation would introduce ranked choice voting. Here’s how it would work:
To simplify things and to use a real world example, I’m going to use the last Wisconsin governor’s race, though as introduced the legislation would apply only to Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts and the U.S. Senate races.
In 2018, there were nine active candidates for governor: eight Democrats and incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Under this proposal, voters would vote for their favorite candidate as usual, except that all nine of them would be on the same ballot; Walker together with the Democrats. You would not have to choose a party primary to vote in because there would only be one column. The top five vote getters would advance to the general election.
In 2018 that would have been Walker, Tony Evers, Mahlon Mitchell, Kelda Roys and Kathleen Vinehout.
Then, in the general election voters would rank their choices one through five. If one candidate got more than 50% of the first choice votes, it’s game over and that candidate wins. But if, as is more likely, nobody gets more than half of the top choice votes, then the candidate that finished fifth is dropped off and voters who ranked him first would get their second choice attributed to that candidate. Election administrators would keep dropping off the lowest vote getter in what’s called an “instant runoff” to arrive at the winner.
Got all that? Yeah, see, that’s the problem.
This bill is flawed because it does both too little and too much. It does too little because it would only apply to federal elections, not state races. And it does too much because it gets mired in an unfamiliar ranked choice voting system that is just too hard to explain. In truth, if it was ever enacted, voters would figure it out pretty fast and the complexities are in the counting of the votes, not really so much for the voter. Nonetheless, complexity will make it harder to pass than the very simple top two vote getters primary system employed by Washington.
Still, credit this bipartisan group of Wisconsin legislators for making this proposal. They are Sens. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick), and Reps. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee) and Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc). They concede that their bill is not likely to pass this session, but the very fact that a bipartisan effort is being made to push our politics back toward the center is very encouraging. Their proposal isn’t perfect, but it’s a very good start.
These legislators deserve your thanks. You can contact them at:
And, if you can, please let them know where you read about this by including a link to this site, which is https://yellowstripsdeadarmadillos.org