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The GOP totally missed the lesson of Sarah Palin’s ranked pick loss


Republicans have railed against “jungle primaries,” or nonpartisan open primaries, and ranked-choice, or RCV, systems that eschew traditional electoral formats. Such is the rage that in Tennessee and Florida, laws have been enacted that essentially prohibit any jurisdiction from experimenting with preferential choice voting in any format. And after Democrat Mary Peltola’s surprise victory in the US House special election in Alaska last week to fill the vacant seat of longtime Republican Rep. Don Young, who died in March, the rallying cries against the RCV have reached their climax. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who has long opposed RCV, even called the format a “scam” in a tweet following the results.

But the GOP — especially the more traditional wing of the party that is alarmed at the divisive nature of general election candidates emerging from Republican primary contests — shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss these formats. More open primaries and ranked choice voting formats could be the tools the GOP needs to regain control of the party from the MAGA-powered fringe element that seems to be knocking it off the edge of the cliff.

Most voters might have wanted to support a Republican, but in the end they preferred a Democrat to Palin, who was fully endorsed by MAGA and Donald Trump.

Although there are many variations, in general, RCV is an electoral framework in which voters rank their candidate preferences. If no candidate wins a simple majority of first preference votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the vote proceeds to another round. In this round, voters whose candidate was eliminated have their votes for their second-choice candidate counted if they cast one. The process continues until one candidate obtains a majority.

In the RCV special election in Alaska, Republican Nick Begich III was eliminated in the first round with 27.8% of the vote. Republican Sarah Palin had 30.9% and Peltola 39.7%. When Palin and Peltola qualified for the second round, enough Begich voters nominated Peltola as their second choice over Palin that in the end Peltola had 51.5% of the vote and Palin 48, 5%.

Most voters might have wanted to support a Republican, but in the end they preferred a Democrat to Palin, who was fully endorsed by MAGA and Donald Trump.

In mid-August, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell doubted the GOP could take control of the Senate midterm. The reason? “The quality of the candidate.” (He was more optimistic about the party’s prospects in the House, but the quality of candidates is also an issue there.)

Widespread adoption of RCV and open primaries would force Republicans to field more moderate or mainstream candidates who could draw support across the aisle and win tighter races.

It’s telling, for example, that the only two representatives of the so-called Impeachment 10 — the House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in his second trial — to have sought re-election and survived this primary cycle did so in a way so called jungle primaries. In Washington’s 4th congressional district, incumbent Republican Dan Newhouse pushed back Loren Culp, a far-right Trump-backed candidate and Holocaust denier who called Newhouse a “traitor” for his vote against the former president. With a traditional conservative like Newhouse advancing in the open primary, Republicans have a much better chance of retaining Washington’s 4th District. A similar story unfolds in California’s 22nd congressional district, where fellow Impeachment 10 member David Valadao survived his open primary. He is in a much stronger position to defend GOP control of the seat after beating his challenger Chris Mathys, a Trump conservative who refuses the election.

And even when MAGA candidates win in “jungle primaries,” like in Washington’s 3rd congressional district, it’s still a lesson that GOP leaders need to do more to support moderate and mainstream Republicans. The emergence of far-right Trump-backed nominee Joe Kent has turned this reliable Republican stronghold into a battleground. Kent came second in an open “top two” primary contest, ousting “Impeachment 10” member Jaime Herrera Beutler, a longtime middle-of-the-road Republican. Kent’s extreme views on MAGA have become a liability for the party, some observers say, instantly making the race much more competitive as he must now race to gain wider support to beat Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez, the top finisher of the primary.

Peltola’s victory, which will serve until January (the remainder of Young’s term), was largely a function of the GOP’s failure to field more moderate or mainstream candidates capable of garnering votes across party lines. . For a Republican Party that’s plagued by a collection of candidates this year that Vanity Fair’s Eric Lutz simply called “weird,” ranked-choice voting naturally weeds out the QAnon fringe and hardcore “Handmaid’s Tale”-type conservatives in favor of more mainstream, eligible mainstream Republicans because they must be able to secure second- or third-choice votes from Democratic and independent voters.

Allowing voters to rank their preferences in open elections will almost always favor pragmatic candidates over ideologues and cordial politicians over detractors who prefer to distinguish themselves from their opponents by using personal attacks.

The open primaries and the RCV would blow away hardline candidates who only appeal to a narrow, albeit very vocal, far-right base that won’t stand much of a chance in highly competitive draw races.

McConnell and other GOP leaders from the party’s more traditional wing fear their party is headed for a cliff because its MAGA base is constantly sending unelected candidates to general elections in ballot states. They might find the RCV method a convenient backdoor to save a party that is on the verge of becoming a permanent fringe minority.

Instead of being the party with a platform dedicated to conspiracy theories, election denials and alternative facts while relying on gerrymandering and voter suppression as primary tools of its election strategy, the GOP could at again seek to compete head-on with the Democrats with reasonable candidates. with mainstream appeal.

The open primaries and the RCV would blow away hardline candidates who only appeal to a narrow, albeit very vocal, far-right base that won’t stand much of a chance in highly competitive draw races. The RCV, of course, threatens the new Trump-inspired GOP power structure, which has led some party members to announce their intention to propose that the Republican National Committee formally oppose it. But this is where McConnell and other mainstream Republicans could and should take a stand, proposing the exact opposite. Open primaries and RCVs are in the long-term interests of the party; they are tools that would allow party stalwarts to right the ship without having to directly attack Trump and the MAGA movement.

The next major test for the RCV will come in November, when voters in Nevada will vote on whether to adopt ranked-choice voting as a new voting format. Even though Nevada has become a decidedly purple state in recent years, Republicans in Nevada have doubled the number of candidates espousing far-right conspiracy theories and electoral denial, and in doing so have significantly reduced the appeal of the party, a decision that risks ceding the state. to the Democrats for good.

If the GOP paid attention to what voters say with their preferences, it could use preferential-choice voting and open primaries to its advantage and save itself from its darker tendencies.

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