Steve Richardson is Director of the Virginia Independent Voters Association and wrote about
Independents should have Option to Vote in Primaries
Thanks to Del. Sam Rasoul (D-11th District), the Virginia General Assembly has an opportunity to return the Commonwealth to its historical role as a Leader of Democracy. He has introduced a Bill, HB1129, that would establish a truly Open Top-Two Primary.
Instead of having to pick a Party Ballot in the Primary and being stuck with only those Choices, Voters could Vote for any Candidate in the Primary. The Two Candidates who receive the Most Votes would move on to the General Election. This system is already used in Nebraska, California, and Washington State.
Why is this important? Because we no longer have a representative democracy. Voter turnout is low because all the real decisions are made by party die-hards, who are responsible for the agenda items least supported by the majority of voters. Our system has been turned upside down because party politics force candidates to cater to the few in the primary so they can make it onto the general election ballot.
Virginia voters have shut down several attempts to close our party primaries. A strong show of support by voters for the open primary bill — especially at this critical juncture in American politics — could persuade lawmakers of both major parties to do the right thing by passing this bill.
I was already independent (neither Republican nor Democrat) when I moved to Fairfax County from Wyoming almost 20 years ago, and I appreciated features of Virginia law such as the one-term limit on governors and nonpartisan voter registration. I also learned that our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights were not only written by Virginians but inspired by Virginia’s Declaration of Rights.
As growth in the District of Columbia suburbs turned Virginia “purple” and polarization across the country made this a battleground state, our elected officials decided that party power was more important than voters’ rights. Specifically, the Republican Party of Virginia twice threatened to require a “loyalty oath” by voters in that primary.
Also introduced were several Bills to require Voters to declare Party affiliation, clearly to pave the way for Closed Primaries. These efforts failed not because of Democratic Opposition but because Republican Voters were offended by them.
The time has come to tell lawmakers that voters want representation, not manipulation. They should know already that nationally more than 40 percent of all eligible voters identify themselves as independents — and our numbers have been increasing steadily as party memberships decline.
They should also know that among millennials, who now constitute the largest bloc of eligible voters and obviously will determine our political future, more than half are independents and more than 70 percent believe we need a third major party. But that knowledge will not change legislators’ behavior until voters demonstrate we mean business through significant, organized action.
That’s why my group, the Virginia Independent Voters Association, is proud to join Open Primaries, a national group working to open the primaries in every state, in supporting Rasoul’s bill.
I’m calling upon all Virginia voters — not just independents — to contact your delegate and senator by phone or email and ask them to co-sponsor the Voter-Nominated Open Primary Elections Bill, which can be seen on the General Assembly website at bit.ly/OpenPrimary. If enacted, it would allow voters to have a real voice and vote for anyone we want, not just choose a party ballot.
As we have seen in States with truly Open Top-Two Primaries, when Candidates face all Voters and all Opponents in the Primary, they have to appeal to Everyone in their Districts, not just the most Partisan Supporters.
Tell your Representatives in Richmond that you expect them to support HB 1129 so the Voters, not the Parties, Control Virginia’s Primary Elections.
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