December 30, 2010

Dealing with the Second Primary

Justin Katz

It seems as if something has significantly changed in electoral politics — or else, that something that has been changing crossed into a visible field of light. The most striking example may have been in Alaska, where Senator Lisa Murkowski rejected the decision of the Republican Party's primary voters and ran as a write-in candidate, ultimately defeating Republican Joe Miller. In Rhode Island Doug Gablinski (D, Bristol, Warren) attempt the same feat, and of course the governor's race was four-way, with independent, Democrat, Republican, and Moderate candidates.

In some respects, one could say that the general election is becoming another shot at a primary, with all of the strategic opportunities that entails. Particularly, I think of the verb "to primary" — indicating the strategy whereby a faction unhappy with a particular office holder runs a candidate against him or her in the primaries. That will surely become a possibility in future general elections, with a special interests, like public sector unions, trying to knock disfavored politicians out in the primaries and then trying to split the vote so that the opposite party wins the general election.

So, legislation proposed by incoming Republican representatives Patricia Morgan and Michael Chippendale to create runoff elections that ultimately bring the race for office down to two candidates is certainly reasonable:

They say the creation of a runoff election requires an amendment to the state Constitution that would need to be passed by both chambers of the General Assembly, then approved by voters in the next general election. ...

"This year there were 12 races in Rhode Island won with less than 50 percent of the vote. I fear this is an issue that will only grow over the next several election cycles," [Morgan] said. "Ultimately we'll see more disenfranchised voters, which will contribute to the existing problem of voter apathy and mistrust of the government."

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

The proposed legislation seems to make sense after Chafee's win with only 36% of the vote.

The Murkowski victory reminds me of Joseph Lieberman's last victory in Connecticut, after Lieberman ditched the Democrat party to run as an independent.

Potential downsides? I suspect there are some not mentioned. For example, would a run-off favor a better funded but less qualified candidate, who might be able to outspend his or her opponent more decisively in a runoff?

Thus on reflection, I'd think some more about other possible unintended (and unwanted) consequences before endorsing the proposal.

Posted by: Bill at December 30, 2010 2:53 PM

The runoff can have a much smaller turnout. In Georgia US Sen in 2008, there were about 3.7 million votes in the general -- Chambliss led with 49.8% and a runoff was necessary. 2.8 million voted in the runoff, which Chambliss won with 57%.

On the other hand, in 2003 in the Louisiana Gov. election, of the 1.3 million votes cast Bobby Jindal got 33% to Kathleen Blanco's 18%. In the runoff, Blanco won 52-48, with about 1.4 million votes cast. Post Katrina, Blanco did not seek reelection in 2007. Jindal handily won that year in the general, with 54% of the vote.

If RI had a runoff this year, it would have been between Chafee and Robitaille. Who would have won that contest?

Posted by: brassband at December 30, 2010 3:29 PM

>>If RI had a runoff this year, it would have been between Chafee and Robitaille. Who would have won that contest?>>

All of Block's votes would have gone to Chafee and I imagine most of Caprio's would have gone to Robitaille.

Posted by: George at December 30, 2010 4:19 PM, I think Robitaille would win.

Posted by: George at December 30, 2010 4:20 PM

First I do not accept the fact that the Moderate party will go far. So the longevity of that party even with legal status of getting 5% of Ken Block in the Governor's race remains unproven for the lost part. A political party to exist needs candidates.
The problem with runoffs would be "special interest" groups would appear to dominate these run-offs at least precentage wise more than the general public. They have more "personal interest" in election results if they are employed by government or directly benefit from government largesse. I do think government is everybody's business.
However I think run-offs need to be looked at seriously. A Governor where the clear majority of Rhode Islanders did not support is at a political disadvantage during their tenure. Fortunately we do not have the legislature deciding on the winner in absence of a majority as some states and we had previously.
Of course you have these issues:
1. Should primaries have a run-off if a nominee does not have a majority?
2. Does the primaries in Rhode Island really need to be so late, held in September?
3.How would you handle absentee voting in run-offs?
4.Should parties be allowed to cross endorse? That is support a non party member for office OFFICIALLY and run under more than one party designation for the same office? New York and Connecticut allow this for example. Remember NO ACTION, I recall of the Rhode Island Republican State Central Committee which I am a member, endorsed Bob Healey for Lt. Governor or the "Clean Slate" as portrayed in the media and others. If you have the dates this happened officially, please advise.
5. Should candidates only have three days to file their declaration of candidacy? It at least should be a week if not more.
6. Should candidates state while filing they are serious bonafide candidates for the office they seek? Heidi Rogers even today, who I do not know, withdrew after just winning the GOP nomination for Lt. Governor in the September primary.
It would be a real stretch to assume Bob Healey was not better known to the general public than she. BTW Ms. Rogers was named a "turkey" in a recent issue of The Providence Phoenix. On the cover was John DePetro as a "turkey".

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at December 30, 2010 5:00 PM

Please put a fork in it, Chafee won, fair and square, without the advantage of the much ballyhooed single party lever voting.

How many votes did Caprio or Robitaille receive from single party voters ??

Chafee got NONE

Posted by: Sammy at December 30, 2010 6:50 PM

If we're all concerned that out state government spends too much money as it is, why do we want to add the expense of another election?
And if you thought big money dictated election results before, a second election will only give the candidate who has deeper pockets a bigger advantage.
Linc Almond was elected governor in '94 with less than 50 percent of the vote. Why wasn't there an outcry for a runoff then?
And are we going to extend runoffs to primaries, too?
All runoffs do is benefit the two established parties and machine politicians who dominate them.

Posted by: bella at December 30, 2010 7:22 PM

I disagree with the legislation because it doesn't fix anything. Let's say we have candidates A, B, C and D running for the same seat. I prefer candidate A and in the election, no one gets 50% or better but C and D move on to the runoff.

I don't like either one. If I did, I would have voted for them in the election. Now I have to pick one? And this is supposed to make me feel less disenfranchised than Chafee winning with 37 or so percent of the vote? I don't think so.

Posted by: Patrick at December 30, 2010 8:43 PM

Instead of runoffs, why not have one election where voters put the candidates they endorse in order? Putting someone first gives them 'half' a vote, with subsequent positions taking half of 'what's left'? The person you put last would get nothing.

Posted by: mangeek at December 30, 2010 8:45 PM

Instead of runoffs, why not have one election where voters put the candidates they endorse in order? Putting someone first gives them 'half' a vote, with subsequent positions taking half of 'what's left'? The person you put last would get nothing.

Posted by: mangeek at December 30, 2010 8:45 PM

Sorry, AR is odd on my phone.

Also, haven't fully thought-out my idea, just popped into my head.

Posted by: Mangeek at December 30, 2010 8:49 PM

After previous elections, the good folks at Anchor Rising, (I think Mr Morse) always published the numbers of votes each candidate received from single party, master lever voters. For some unknown reason this election is different ??

Mr Chafee had all the disadvantages,, no master lever votes, no organized statewide party to support him, no endorsement by the well respected sitting governor, no military or business background. And with Mr.
Chafee having held 3 elected positions Mr Robitaille and Mr Caprio, had plenty of political history, to use against him.

Posted by: Sammy at December 30, 2010 9:32 PM

sammy-again,what is it to you?You don't live here,but you stick your nose in constantly.Why not get involved in Arizona?Because the people there will run you out of town on a rail with your left wing garbage.You won't have to live under shadow of an idiot marionette in the Statehouse being manipulated by people like banker/union hoodlum Walsh or union hoodlum in chief Nee.

Posted by: joe bernstein at December 31, 2010 8:10 AM

'Mr Chafee had all the disadvantages'

Really? He had the best name recognition by far, thanks to his dad. He had an inherited personal fortune to draw on, while all the other candidates have demanding jobs (or in Block's case, a business to run).

No team? Maybe not on staff in every town, but every town's employees were behind him, and that's a quarter of the vote right there (when you consider spouses).

Posted by: mangeek at December 31, 2010 9:54 AM

Some thoughts. Under the laws under existence both Chafee and Kilmartin won their offices with a plurality not a majority.
The question is what about the future? Should multi candidate primaries mainly in the Democratic party in Rhode Island which are tantamount to election have candidates winning with well below 50%,.
A discussion should include BOTH primary and general election on majority deciding the winner. In regards to those who complain about cost of elections, the actions while in office, of those elected, can cost taxpayers very much more.
The issue not addressed and decided on the state GOP side is whether primaries should be closed to only party voters. That issue has not come to the floor to a debate. With the President virtually assured of renomination, Republican Presidential Primaries through the nation will have the most excitement. With current rules in place unaffilateds in Rhode Island will help decide the Republican primary winner in the Presidential race as that will be the competitive primary. That is unless party registration is required beforehand. The Democrats likely will have a challener(s) to President Obama but historically it is difficult to deny a President renomination if they desire it. Unaffilateds will clearly more likely desire to vote in Republican Presidential Primaries.
The last two Republican state committee meetings did not have a quorum. The real concern I have is where the state GOP is going?

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at December 31, 2010 10:32 AM

Why does anyone think that two points of view cover all political possibilities, which is what a reduction to two candidates would produce?

We would do better to look to proportional representation as a solution.

It is absurd to think that all political solutions are contained exclusively in the "wisdom" of the Republican or Democratic Parties.

It looks to me as though there are four parties already, two Republican (see Alaska) and two Democrat (See inner city and Blue Dog).

Bring on the separation. Let a thousand flowers bloom.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at December 31, 2010 11:26 AM

Something that this election brought to light is candidates with union backing winning elections. If that doesn't scare the heck out of you nothing will.

Union backed candidates for General Assembly won primaries against moderately leaning Democrat incumbents.

Governor-elect Chafee had backing from the NEA and Bob Walsh. Winning with 36.1% of the vote and union backing shows the influence of the unions in RI politics. Their tendrils which were confined to the General Assembly are now reaching into the Executive Branch.

Look at the proposals Chafee has talked about implementing:
1. Canceling the E-Verify Executive Order.
2. Implementation of a 1% Sales Tax.
3. A more conciliatory approach with public sector unions. Said a heavy-handed approach to the unions hasn't worked.
4. A lack of willingness to address regionalization. Compares Fairfax County Virginia to RI and says the administrative costs are the same.
5. Non-committal on the future of Education Director Deborah Gist.
6. Criticized the Studio 38 deal while his own spokesman Mr. Trainer defaulted on an EDC loan which would have purchased a storm shutter company located out of state.

The unions have figured out how to operate and win elections by running multiple candidates in elections and by winning with less than 50% of the vote. This will make it harder and harder for non-union candidates to become elected unless some action is taken by the General Assembly to curb union influence across the state politically. This is the main reason we do need to get union influence out of politics in RI.

Posted by: Justanotherjoe at December 31, 2010 2:29 PM

The call for proportional representation is an echo of the commies from the Thirties.Old Time Lefty is a good handle-particularly "old"-your ideas sure are old.

Posted by: joe bernstein at December 31, 2010 5:26 PM

Chafee is a shtick dreck.Look it up in a Yiddish online source.

Posted by: joe bernstein at December 31, 2010 5:28 PM

I am in some agreement with brassband. A runoff election would produce a winner with a majority, but that majority could be with less voters- a majority in name only. It would not satisfy the political reality of governing. Chafee with his 36% has to figure out how to govern. I don't know if a runoff election would change that.

Posted by: David S at December 31, 2010 8:00 PM

Though I disagree with virtually all his views, justanotherjoe's post made me think:
Unions would be stupid to run more than one candidate - wouldn't that dilute their political power and cause them to lose elections?
And if union folks ever bolt the Democrats and form their own political party, how about this scenario: three-way race, the Republican and Democrat finish 1-2, and we have a runoff.
Who gets elected? The candidate that appeals to the union bloc. A conservative candidate having to woo union voters to get elected - what a hoot!
Be careful what you wish for, runoff fans who think it's the way you'll get rid of Chafee,

Posted by: bella at December 31, 2010 9:05 PM

Joe, you are writing nonsense. Proportional representation (PR) voting systems are used by most of the worlds major democracies. Many political scientists attribute the low voter turnout in the United States to its “winner take all politics”. Of the 21 democracies in Western Europe and North America, the United States is next to last in voter turn-out.

Greater voter turn-out (typically 70-90%) is usually found in PR democracies because there are more choices for voters—third, fourth, fifth parties and more from diverse perspectives.

Proportional Representation leads to more diverse representation of women and minorities, and reduces effects of big money.

Not in 1930, but today, here is a partial list of the world’s major democracies which have some form of Proportional Representation - Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Venezuela.

Do yourself a favor and do a bit of research so your comments won’t look as though a fact never shed light upon them. We’re both old codgers, joe, but on this one you are definitely the dinosaur.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at December 31, 2010 9:50 PM

In the primary election Doug Gablinske who refereed to the state's public unions as "pigs at the public trough" lost to Richard Morrison who was supported by door to door campaigning by AFL-CIO state president George Nee. The local primary showed the power of labor in the Democrat primary.
Here is who was ousted as a result of union influence or lack of support thereof:
Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Providence

Rep. David A. Caprio, D-Narragansett

Rep. Douglas W. Gablinske, D-Bristol

Rep. Alfred A. Gemma, D-Warwick

Rep. Christopher Fierro, D-Woonsocket

Rep. Michael A. Rice, D-South Kingstown

Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith, D-Lincoln

Rep. Kenneth Vaudreuil, D- Cumberland

Rep. Peter N. Wasylyk, D-Providence

Chafee won with teacher union support in a four way race. And many Democrats failed to support Caprio who's campaign had a melt down near the end. Furthermore Chafee started out at about 31% or 32% of the vote when he first announced his campaign. He only garnered about 4% more even after a full campaign. Robitaille on the other hand started low and worked hard to move from about 13% up to 33.6%

Posted by: Justanotherjoe at December 31, 2010 11:01 PM

OTL-most of the countries you mention are parliamentary governments.We aren't,so grafting on their electoral system makes no sense.Parliamentary systems have very little stability.Most of the countries you mention aren't doing that well.
As you freely assert,I will freely deny(where did I hear that?)

Posted by: joe bernstein at December 31, 2010 11:21 PM

You have the words, but need to work on the music. The partial list of countries that I called major democracies using proportional representation is a fact, not an assertion. That we are among the lowest countries in the world in terms of voter turnout is a fact, not an assertion. You changed the subject when you talked about "not doing so well". I guess it's an understandable mistake on your part to confuse politics and economics - I was speaking of politics and you turned the subject to economics which is a major paradigm shift and a change of subject which I will be happy to discuss with you when appropriate.

So, your assertion about an assertion is ill founded and your objection is off the track. You are not even coherent on this topic. Please try to stay on topic.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at January 1, 2011 11:01 AM

Hey OTL-the last time I wasn't coherent was coming out of surgery.
If voter turnout is low,it's because people are too lazy to be bothered,and that defines the difference between us.(Seriously-no smart remarks to follow).
I believe that we each have to make decisions for ourselves.You seem to think the government might have to amke some decisions for us.That's okay if one commits a crime or is undeniably crazy and dangerous or undeniably helpless to take care of themselves(like lying in the gutter and having sh*tted themselves),but in general I figure if you don't vote that's your problem.
Think how good it is that most Americans are okay with not voting.I guess it means they think the system is working.
I don't think you actually READ what I post here sometimes.At other times you do.
Believe it or not ,I read opposing views more carefully than ones I agree with so I can argue from a position of logic.
FWIW I didn't vote for a long time because I had other things going on in my life as most of us do.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 1, 2011 2:56 PM

justanotherjoe-two of the races you mentioned really didn't hinge on unions at all.
Ray Hull defeated Wasylyk over constituent service and communication issues.I live in that district and was on ray Hull's campaign committee.Unions never came up.
Wasylyk missed an enormous number of votes and was generally unresponsive to residents in his district.
Joe Almeida lost because he didn't bother to raise any money and changing demographics in his district which has become more Hispanic recently.
Almeida had what seemed like a solid seat in the House.I think he just got caught unawares.Almeida was generally considered in the progressive group so the unions wouldn't have targeted him.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 2, 2011 6:44 AM

Are you saying that democracy is served by low voter turnout? If you really believe that you have gone beyond argument and into never-never land. Check your meds!

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at January 2, 2011 11:55 AM

OTL-Which meds?Insulin?Would you like some?Insulin shock would be a real blast-you could become another Sunny Von Bulow.Sometimes you're just dirt stupid.
You completely missed my point-no ,low voter turnout isn't good,but democracy in a constitutional republic like ours depends upon and protects free will by citizens.
Do you want compulsory voting?Maybe card check so everyone can see how you voted?You're the one over the edge on this.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 2, 2011 5:11 PM
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