For Policy not Poses

The Democratic Process


A moderate Republican friend recently gave me a book to read called “The Second Civil War – How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America.”  I am not very far into it yet, but the central message is one that I argued in my campaign: we have become polarized along party lines to the point that our politicians are more interested in party loyalty and ideology than in solving public problems.

That attitude seems to have trickled down, where it makes even less sense, to local elections. Most American cities have already adopted non-partisan elections, and we should do the same thing, for the simple reason that party ideology has almost nothing to do with local governance.

Republican aldermanic candidate Greg Stiverson supports non-partisan city elections:

Fundamentally, I believe Annapolis needs nonpartisan elections. Every other city in Maryland, with the exception of Frederick and Baltimore, has nonpartisan municipal elections. State and national politics have virtually nothing to do with issues of local concern.

Independent mayoral candidate Chris Fox also supports non-partisan elections.

The other argument in favor of non-partisan elections is perhaps more provocative to party leaders, but well illustrated in Maryland. When one party dominates the voter rolls, the primary election, despite its generally lower turnout (and often less serious choice — remember when George Wallace won Maryland primaries?), decides the outcome.

Although much has been made of the Democratic nominee having come in second in the primary, the reality is that approximately 11/12 of the eligible Democratic voters did not vote for Josh Cohen, and indeed even just looking at the people who actually voted, almost 2/3 voted against Josh Cohen. That Josh came in with the second highest plurality is about as meaningful statistically as his shoe size. When we call that “democracy,” we are fooling ourselves.

Run-off elections are the best answer, but they cost money. Although we do have special elections fairly often when elected officials leave their positions early, most politicians balk at run-offs. The next best thing is what’s called  “instant runoff voting” (IRV). As explained in a blog posting by activist Will Small:

IRV is elegantly simple and helps foolproof the election, preventing the spoiler issue and preempting issues such as the sullied results of the democratic primary. In IRV the electorate ranks their candidates in order of preference. If there is a majority winner at the 1st choice the judges stop counting. If not, they go on to the 2nd choice and so on. Takoma Park has it.


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