With the initiative petition deadline little more than three weeks away, Rick Weiland and Drey Samuelson send the following pitch for their “Nonpartisan Democracy Amendment,” a proposal that would overhaul our primary election system thus:
- All candidates for partisan office—from Congress down to county commissioner and sheriff—would have their names placed on a single primary ballot, without any party designation.
- All voters—Republican, Democrat, Independent, or other—would get to vote on the same primary ballot.
- The top two vote-getters on the primary ballot advance to the general election. (In races like State House, where voters are filling more than one seat, the number of candidates advancing to the general election will be double the number of seats available.)
Why is that plan a good idea? Here’s Weiland and Samuelson’s answer:
It was George Washington who wisely warned, in his Farewell Address, of the “baneful effects” of political partisanship, which “agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasional riot and insurrection…”
Washington, the man, was prescient; at the same time that Washington, the city named after him, plummets into chaos. The House seems unable to even name a new Speaker, the Federal Government may soon shut down again, congressional approval is at an all-time low, voter turnout in the last election was its lowest in seven decades, a recent Pew survey found that between half and two-thirds of consistently conservative Republicans and Democrats view each other not just as wrong, but as actual threats to the nation’s well-being. Our country is devolving into warring tribes, and little is getting done.
So is there a solution?
It’s clear that attempting to reform a partisan-riven, gridlocked Congress is a fools-errand–the only initial step that makes sense is to push reform in the states first, and give Congress no other choice but to follow.
Nebraska has shown the path—in 1934, a successful ballot initiative removed partisan identification from its state legislative elections. Unlike every other state, if you run for the legislature in Nebraska you do so as an individual—there is no designation of your political party, and so your party registration is irrelevant. As a beneficial consequence, Nebraska’s legislature isn’t organized on a partisan basis, there are no party caucuses, no party bosses who must be obeyed, and legislators are chosen to lead on their own merits, not on the strength of their respective political party. In fact, in the 2014 session of the Nebraska Legislature (which was composed of an overwhelming majority of registered Republicans), eight of the 14 legislative committees were chaired by registered Democrats, five by Republicans, and one by an Independent—it’s truly a meritocracy.
And just try this thought experiment: would anyone describe the U.S. Congress as a meritocracy? Does anyone really believe that a non-partisan Congress would be led by it’s currently leaders? The question, unfortunately, answers itself.
We believe that most voters are more than ready to try something new, and our organization, TakeItBack.Org, is gathering signatures to put the South Dakota Nonpartisan Democracy Amendment on the 2016 South Dakota general election ballot. If a majority votes for the initiative, as we expect (it was favored 71%-26% in a June PPP poll), it’s likely that other states—especially those in which ballot initiatives are allowed—will follow.
Could Congress eventually follow suit? Yes, it could, and it’s now time for the states to show the way.
Rick Weiland is a businessman in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and former candidate for the U.S. Senate; Drey Samuelson was Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator Tim Johnson for his 28-year congressional career. They are the co-founders of TakeitBack.org.
The open nonpartisan primary offers the chance for more South Dakotans to participate in electing their leaders, but as we discussed in August, this proposal may put Independent and third-party candidates at a greater disadvantage than under the current system. Weiland and Samuelson see an advantage for Independents, as shown by the ascent of an Independent to committee chair-ship in Nebraska’s nonpartisan system.
With three weeks to go, and with those advantages and disadvantages, are you eager to see the open nonpartisan primary initiative make the ballot?