This past week the House passed S.117, an act relating to the date of the primary election, a seemingly innocuous bill intended to increase voter participation and to bring Vermont election law into compliance with federal law. The main idea is that if the primary election were earlier, there would be more time for overseas voters to receive and return their ballots. Progressives had been asked to testify and our position was twofold: 1) parties should decide their candidates for the general election, so primaries should be a Party function not a state function (and cost), and 2) if this will increase participation, then it is a good idea.
However, before third reading an amendment was passed that removed the opportunity for Independent candidates to enter the race after the primary. The authors’ goal was to remove the opportunity for someone who lost a primary to then enter the same race as an Independent. This however created a bias toward the three major parties, because those parties can nominate candidates for the general election for three days after the primary election. The reason for this is if a major party did not have any candidates in a primary and was therefore not fielding anybody in the general election, then they could have a "second bite" at the apple so that there would be a contested election. Independents used to have the same rules (they had the same three days to file a petition with signatures). Now Independents have to file for the General election at the same time as major party candidates have to file for the primary election.
With the main reason given for this change being to stop a primary loser from running as an Independent, I asked for the statistics. It turns out that this occurs in only about 0.5-1% of the seats up for election each cycle. To solve the "problem" the House created a few others:
1) an unfair playing field for the 40% of Vermonters who do not consider themselves a member of the three major parties;
2) fewer choices for voters whose preferred candidate loses in the primary; and
3) a bias to become a member of the three major parties in order to have the opportunity to run in a situation where there might have been an unchallenged election field.
Our election system is already too rigged towards two parties, much less three. We should be making the system more open to involvement by people not less.
This amendment was a step backwards for democracy. It may have had the intention of solving one "problem," but in fact has many other consequences.