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John Delaney’s Election Reform Bill

Posted: August 17, 2014 at 1:15 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

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By Tanzi Strafford

Delaney seeks to transform election process for the U.S. House of Representatives

and extend Maryland’s tyranny of Democrats nationwide. 

            Democrat U.S. Rep. John Delaney from Maryland, District 6, who is running against the Republican nominee Dan Bongino in the general election this November, recently introduced a bill, H.R. 5334, the “Open Our Democracy Act of 2014.”

Rep. Delaney’s bill would change national election law for electing members of the House of Representatives.  The bill’s intent is “[t]o require all candidates for election for the office of Member of the House of Representatives to run in a single open primary regardless of political party preference, to limit the ensuing general election for such office to the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes in such single open primary, and for other purposes.”

Delaney’s website justifies the bill by saying,

“Congress is broken,” said Delaney. “The American people are frustrated because the common good of the country isn’t being served. An electoral system that rewards extreme partisanship, is warped by gerrymandering, and features low turnout elections that produces a House of Representatives that doesn’t live up to its name. The Open Our Democracy Act addresses these problems by giving independents, moderates, and non-partisans a voice in our elections; beginning the process for national redistricting reform so that congressional districts are representative, and making Election Day a holiday. In the end, that means better electoral choices, better districts, and more people voting; a hugely beneficial prescription for a healthier republic.

Further, Delaney’s website gives a brief description of the bill and its justification:

The Open Our Democracy Act:

  • ·      Open primaries: Members of the House of Representatives shall be elected through a single open primary and a single general election. All candidates, regardless of party preference, compete on a single primary ballot, with all registered voters – regardless of party affiliation – eligible to vote. The two candidates who receive the greatest number of votes will appear on the general election ballot. Benefits: greater voice for independents, elections not dominated by partisan contests.
    • ·      Redistricting reform: Directs the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the feasibility of establishing national standards for redistricting. Benefits: Congressional districts that truly represent local communities, less safe seats dominated by a single party and fewer members focused only on winning a partisan primary.
    • Making Election Day a holiday: General Election Day shall be a legal public holiday equivalent to a federal holiday. The legislation also expresses the sense of Congress that private employers should give employees time off to vote. Benefits: more participation in our elections.

Well, that all sounds good, but data from states that have adopted top-two primaries reveal that Rep. Delaney (D) is probably more concerned with keeping his job in Congress for a long time than anything else. Similar calls for top-two primaries also came from Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer, N.Y., to extend California’s Proposition 14, Top Two Primaries Act, which was approved in 2010 and adopted by California in 2012, to other states. Currently, “top-two” primaries are only conducted in Washington and California.  Louisiana has a similar primary, but it is not exactly the same “top-two” approach.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, as of February of 2013, there were 43.9 % Democrats, 28.9% Republicans and 20.9% Unaffiliated in California.  Based on the data and studies of the outcome of the election in California, this system did not produce more moderate candidates.  It also did not increase turnout, but instead increased the cost of the election.

Moreover, as noted at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/06/06/is-californias-top-two-primary-working/,  The New York Times asked political scientists and academics after California’s Proposition 14 passed in 2010, how would top two primaries would impact elections.  Barbara Sinclair, a political scientist at UCLA wrote the following:

Voters are likely to be the losers, at least initially. They may have more “choice” but are likely to have less information. Candidates will not even need to list their party affiliation on the ballot.

Certainly finding out a candidate’s party will not be difficult for those who pay any attention, but the cacophony of many candidates “selling their own wares” in a context of limited media coverage of most races is only likely to get worse.

Ironically, it is possible that the eventual result will be party-affiliated voters relying more on party endorsements and the truly unaffiliated voting in lower rather than higher numbers.

She was correct. The result of the last “top- two” primaries election in California, on June 3, 2014 was astonishing.  For example, take the race for California Secretary of State.  Incumbent Democrat Leland Yee was indicted for money laundering, public corruption and gun trafficking.  Yet, he still ended up in third place behind two other Democrats.  Meanwhile, an Independent candidate, Dan Schnur, with strong credentials and an endorsement by the San Francisco Chronicle, came in 23,793 votes behind indicted Democrat Yee.

In California’s 26th Senate District, Democrat Sandra Fluke, an advocate for a contraceptive mandate to be applied to all new health insurance plans in all states, was one of the “top-two” primary vote-getters. As a result, she has advanced to the general election this November as a candidate for California State Senate and will face off against another Democrat, Ben Allen. In effect, instead of a Democrat nominee facing off a Republican nominee in the general election, it will be Democrat verses Democrat in the general election, Fluke vs. Allen.

Not only does California’s “top-two” primary not produce moderate candidates, it also does not increase turnout.  In the words of The Washington Post report, it “ … was lousy. Like, “embarrassingly low.” The Los Angeles Times tried to diagnose the problem, “the cause of California’s embarrassingly low voter turnout Tuesday can be easily summarized by a simple equation: Relative contentment + a sense of predestined outcome = little incentive to vote.”

Moreover, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) concluded that:

This report has looked at the causes and consequences of turnout in California’s primary elections. Turnout in primaries has, in fact, declined over the past few decades, even in comparison with turnout in the general election; and there are reasons to believe that turnout will continue to fall, since initiatives may no longer appear on the primary ballot.

Furthermore, key policy interventions intended to boost primary turnout may not have much effect. California’s new top-two primary failed to produce the increase in turnout that many had hoped for, and there is little evidence that open primaries in other states have fared any better. Independents appear to be fickle primary voters, inclined to participate only when a ballot includes a close race.  Recent efforts to increase turnout by making registration easier—such as online and same-day registration—also appear to have no meaningful impact on primary turnout.

Rep. Delaney also stated on his website and during his introduction of this bill that “The American people are frustrated because the common good of the country isn’t being served. An electoral system that rewards extreme partisanship, is warped by gerrymandering, and features low turnout elections produces a House of Representatives that doesn’t live up to its name.”  But according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), this is not true. The lower voter turnout in primaries does not produce more radical, “extreme” nominees  “[a]nd it is worth noting that research on primary turnout and polarization has found no real link between the two, at least in the case of U.S. Senate elections (Hirano et al., 2010).  Thus, lower turnout is not necessarily producing more radical representation.”  http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_514EMR.pdf

The Maryland primaries reflect this; as a result, the Republican Party has a slate of excellent grassroots nominees for the Maryland general election that truly represents the people of Maryland such as Dan Bongino for the 6th Congressional District and Larry Hogan for governor, among others nominees.  Interestingly, PPIC also states that the general election between “these same-party contests are of less interest to voters on average than are races between two candidates of different parties.”  Thus, a lack of real choice would lead to lower voter turnout during the general election.

In addition, Rep. Delaney’s also thinks that  “[a]n electoral system that rewards extreme partisanship, is warped by gerrymandering, and features low turnout elections produces a House of Representatives that doesn’t live up to its name.”  Thus, the redistricting reform is necessary so  congressional districts truly represent local communities, less safe seats dominated by a single party and fewer members focused only on winning a partisan primary.”

 

He is exactly right, because that’s what happened in Maryland.  Specifically District 6 and 3 are warped by gerrymandering that took place in 2012.  In fact, Rep. Delaney became a Congressman as a direct result of the redistricting of District 6 that represents rural Western Maryland and part of Montgomery County.  How in the world can wealthy businessman Delaney be an authentic “representative” of these diametrically opposed constituencies?  The answer is, he can’t.

In fact, The Washington Post states that Maryland and North Carolina are essentially tied for the honor of most-gerrymandered state. With average gerrymander scores of about 88 out of a possible 100, Maryland and North Carolina are home to some of the ugliest districts in the nation among states with at least three Congressional districts. In fact, North Carolina is home to three out of the top 10 most-gerrymandered districts in the country. Maryland is proof that gerrymandering isn’t just a Republican pastime, as the state’s Democrats redrew those boundaries in 2012. The standout in that state is the 3rd Congressional district, which is the nation’s second-most gerrymandered and home to Democratic congressman John Sarbanes.

 

But Rep. Delaney does not propose to actually do anything.  His bill would only mandate a study.

 

Another issue about top-two primaries is the nationwide media coverage that it receives.  It is commonly accepted that mainstream media is biased in favor of Democrats.  For example in Maryland, the Republicans’ voice is rarely heard in the local newspapers, unless a conservative group like the pro-life clinic “Centro Tepeyac” ís made whole by Montgomery County government for 375K in legal fees that they acquired while they were restoring First Amendment Rights.

In an open primary in Maryland, the most likely scenario is that the media will cover only Democratic candidates and completely ignore fine Republican candidates. Name recognition will drive votes to Democrats as the top two candidates in Maryland. To get the vote out and generate name recognition will cost a lot more during “top-two” primaries. “Everything is so much more expensive,” said Ruben Barrales, president and CEO of Grow Elect, which works to elect Republican Latinos, according to San Francisco (Sfgate). “We’re doing polling earlier than ever, and every race is different (than it used to be) – even in the same district.” Many grassroots candidates nationwide don’t have that type of money unless if they are wealthy like Delaney who spent 2.4 million dollars of his own money for his last campaign.

Rep. Delaney also asked for suggestions for his Election Reform Bill on his Twitter account  John Delaney@JDelaneyforMD. Taken into consideration the data from “top two” primaries in California, H.R. 5334 should be dead on arrival.