Open Primary Elections – Something New Jersey Could Learn About From California

Considering the fact that both Democrats and Republicans in New Jersey are equally committed to having as few competitive congressional and legislative districts as possible, I think that democracy in our state could definitely benefit from an open primary election law similar to California’s as described in this article about the primary election between two of California’s Democratic Congressmen, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who faced off yesterday, and as the top-two vote-getters in their district, will face off again in November.

If New Jersey had a similar law as California, both Ron Rice and Steve Rothman would have a second chance at being elected to Congress in November as both were the second-highest vote-getters in their districts in yesterday’s primary elections.  In CD9, Rothman received nearly four times as many votes as the Republican primary election winner, Rabbi Shmueley Boteach, and in CD10, I was unable to find vote totals for the Republican candidate, Brian Keleman, but I am going to go out on a limb and guess that he received less than a tenth of the number of votes that Rice received.

I don’t know how California’s ballots look nor do I know if the top vote-getters in their open primary elections gain any kind of competitive advantage in the general election, but there can be no doubt that their approach is far more democratic than New Jersey’s.  Obviously, it is too late for a law like this to benefit Rice or Rothman, but it is something that progressives should consider going forward and possibly work with anti-establishment conservatives to get bipartisan support for.

Comments (3)

  1. tabbycat31

    While I don’t mind a semi-closed system, I hate the concept of 2008’s “operation chaos” and feel that voters affiliated with a party should have a say in the primary nominating process.  I am okay with a “semi-closed” primary (where independents can declare that day) but as an active Democrat, I don’t think that I should have a say in the GOP nominating process (and vice versa).  

    While it’s very possible that there could be 2 Democrats facing off against each other, what about CD-7 where it could be Lance against David Larsen and give the Democrats in the district nobody to vote for?  In Monmouth County, the GOP turnout outnumbered the Democratic turnout 4-1 in Tuesday’s primaries, and that could leave CD-4 without a Democratic nominee.  Two years ago, CD-6 had a contested GOP primary, and as a Democrat, I would not feel comfortable voting for Anna Little or Diane Gooch.  

    Flame away, but I also think conservative Democrats do have their place.  In some districts (not necessarily in New Jersey), a progressive is simply not electable.  I’m getting ready to move to one such district in the South for a race (today in fact) and it’s a conservative district that was represented by a conservative Democrat for years until 2010.  I would rather have a Democrat who votes with the party 85% of the time than a Republican who is good for no support.  

  2. tabbycat31

    I do not necessarily agree with the “party line” on a primary ballot because I feel that it gives certain candidates an unfair chance (in Monmouth County, many drop out if they do not receive the party line.)

    There are a few instances (I will not name names) where I would have preferred the candidate who did not get the party line, but I ended up (twice) voting for the candidate that did.  

    Maybe contested primaries could drive up turnout too.

  3. Carl Bergmanson

    open primaries aren’t good, and would solve nothing – in fact, they’d probably make things worse.

    Requiring 50% +1 to win a primary, or, even better, “Instant Runoffs”, would improve things, as would and eliminating county lines – not that the people benefiting from the way it is now (the same people who would have initiate the changes) are likely to support either…


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