The Common Good

Breaking News: Super Tuesday Entirely Predictable

photo   © 2012   DonkeyHotey , Flickr
photo © 2012 DonkeyHotey , Flickr

Thousands cast their ballots in yesterday’s primary election and the results?

Things pretty much stayed the same.

Romney is still the front runner, Santorum the closest challenger, Paul continues his campaign to influence the GOP agenda and Gingrich is still Gingrich.

With the end of the primaries nowhere in sight, Democrats are smiling in remembrance to their own long drawn out fight between the Obama and Clinton campaigns during the 2008 cycles. While the preponderance of advertising and horse race coverage can be tiring, are these drawn out battles a good thing?

For example, the 2008 primaries increased voter registration significantly for the Democrats and this cycle seems to be doing the same for Republicans. Regardless of party affiliation, increased voter registration is a pretty good thing.

The level of discourse isn’t always what I would hope but extended primaries also give the opportunity to talk about some fundamental questions. Ron Paul has a conversation going about the role of government and our responsibilities in the world at large while Gingrich is getting people to talk about investments in science and space exploration that have long faded from the public eye.

Long primaries also mean attention to states that don’t normally get the limelight. I would wager a guess the states that are involved in primary elections that are seen as nationally significant increase voter turnout not just for that election but for others in the future as well. Voter turnout in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Ohio consistently have turnout well above the national average.

Excitement around an election matters. Long primaries help bring that excitement to places it wouldn’t be otherwise.

But, there are a lot more ways to help encourage a culture of political engagement than hoping for long primary fights. Some states and municipalities are starting to use new balloting systems like “instant runoff voting” or IRV. Systems like IRV and others similar options like “range voting”, allow voters to do more than just vote up or down yes or no. Voters, in various ways, can express preferences and rankings.

Ideally, this would allow for the proliferation of other parties and more diversity of thought and opinion within a party. Hypothetically, it would allow someone like Ron Paul run to the right of the GOP nominee and someone like Bernie Sanders to run to the left of President Obama. Those who like Ron Paul or Bernie Sanders could indicate that candidate as their top choice while still expressing that they would rather have the GOP nominee or keep the current president.

Sound confusing? Here’s a video as to how it works:

There are the problems we see during elections and then there are the problems with elections themselves. We need to pay attention to both.

For related reading check out Myrna Perez on the disenfranchisements of felons or this post by Logan Laituri.

Tim King is communications director at Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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