Has time come for a ‘top two’ primary system?

Disenfranchising voters is never a good thing.

Which is why it’s time to end Idaho’s rigid party system, which favors the Republican and Democrat parties. Instead, let’s switch to a “top two” primary system like that adopted by Washington voters in 2004 and which has successfully run in Louisiana for years. A similar system, through Proposition 14, was adopted recently in California.

Under such a system, the two candidates with the most votes in the primary move on to the general election. It may be a Republican and a Democrat. It may be two Republicans. It may be two Democrats. Or it may be someone who chooses not to identify a party affiliation or is running on the “Purple People Eaters” party.

In Washington, candidates list their party preference and have a certain number of characters to describe that preference. The primary applies to federal partisan offices such as U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, statewide partisan offices such as governor and county partisan offices such as commissioner. It does not apply to presidential or vice president or political party precinct committee officers.

The purpose of the primary, according to the Washington Secretary of State’s website, is not to select each party’s nominees. Parties are free to conduct their nominating procedures according to their own rules, at their own conventions, meetings or caucuses. They’re free to develop the criteria that best fits their members and their views of what their party should be without outside interference.

It gives voters — all voters — the ability to have a say in their state.

It gives the political parties — all of them — greater control over their part of the process.

It gives the state — the entire state — candidates who reflect its people. The same goes on the county level.

The Senate State Affairs Committee, voting along party lines, Wednesday approved legislation that would give the state’s political parties the option of closing primary election to those voters willing to register with that party. It now goes to the full body for vote.

The legislation stems from a federal court ruling which found Idaho’s decades-old system of open primaries to be unconstitutional. The ruling is being appealed by New York-based Committee for a United Independent Party.

If the bill passes, the state GOP is widely expected to limit participation in the 2012 election to registered Republicans. It would make voter registration public record and set forth rules on disassociating from a political party.

The GOP has the right to say who their candidates should be — as do the Democrats.

It’s understandable that some don’t want others crashing their party without an invitation — setting aside the fact that the practice has a long history by folks on both sides of the aisles or that the ruling gives the dangerous appearance of political parties having the right to more say in the process than the average voter.

That’s the beauty of moving to a top-two system in Idaho.

The parties get their say — the ballots could even indicate who is the endorsed candidate.

The voters get their say — encouraging participation instead of discouraging it.

And the state? The state gets an engaged electorate where ALL are invited to the party.

Caroline Lobsinger is the managing editor of the Daily Bee.

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