When my fellow Republicans express skepticism over proposals to change how we elect public officials, I ask them, "So, how's the current system working for you?"
Not too well. Roughly 50% more Americans identify themselves as conservative rather than liberal, yet Republicans have fared poorly in the past three election cycles. Midterms are almost always good for the party that doesn't occupy the White House, yet in 2022, Republicans had a net loss of one senator and two governors and a gain of just 10 House members.
Some of my friends blame this performance — the worst in 20 years — on Donald Trump. But the real culprit is the method of electing members of Congress.
We're not nominating the best we can. A different system would incentivize our candidates to appeal to the broader electorate and, when they get into office, turn our agenda into law rather than just pontificate from the sidelines and bash the other party.
Here's a recent example. On April 4, Janet Protasiewicz blew away Dan Kelly for a swing seat on Wisconsin's Supreme Court. Although the race was officially nonpartisan, Protasiewicz is a Democrat and Kelly is a Republican. Liberals gained a majority on the court for the first time in 15 years in an election that will affect decisions on matters such as abortion.
We should have won, or at least made a good race of it. Instead, the Democrat was victorious, 56-44%, in a state that Joe Biden carried by less than three-tenths of a point.
Kelly, who had lost a Supreme Court race two years before by more than 10 points, was far less attractive than another Republican, judge Jennifer Dorow. But in the open primary on Feb. 21 to choose the two finalists, Kelly beat Dorow for second place by 2.4 percentage points. Kelly was overwhelmed, as predicted, in April.
The analytical website FiveThirtyEight.com reported, "Kelly was the opponent liberals wanted in this race," and they helped him with ads in the primary. A liberal group called A Better Wisconsin Together (ABWT), funded by labor unions, "spent nearly $2.2 million" opposing Dorow, according to FiveThirtyEight.
ABWT's commercials painted her as soft on crime. One ended: "Jennifer Dorow lets criminals off the hook, and that has no place on our Supreme Court."
Democrats have become adept at such electoral perversions. The Washington Post reported in November that they spent "$19 million across eight states in primaries this year amplifying far-right Republican candidates who have questioned or denied the validity of the 2020 election."
But under our current system, helping the other side nominate a weakling makes sense.
"All told," according to the Post, "Democrats directly interfered in at least 13 primaries" last year. Among their successes: governor's races in Illinois and Maryland, and the Senate race in New Hampshire.
Even without help from Democrats, Republicans nominate weak candidates. Mehmet Oz, the TV doctor, won the Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania by just 1,000 votes over David McCormick, who would have been far more competitive in the general election. Despite suffering a stroke, Democrat John Fetterman defeated Oz by 177,000 votes in a state Trump won in 2016 and lost narrowly in 2020.
A big reason Republicans are losing is a system that typically pits the winners of two partisan primaries together in the general election. Such primaries have low turnouts — around 8% of eligible voters turn out on each side — and most primaries can be won with a mere plurality, like Oz's 31%.
Even in cases like the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, where there was an open primary, Republicans don't wind up getting their best candidates into the general election.
But there is an antidote. It's called Final-Five Voting. It was deployed Nov. 8 and won a ballot initiative in Nevada on the same day that state's voters agreed to remove a Democratic governor who opposed Final-Five.
The system starts with a preliminary round (instead of separate party primaries) open to all registered voters and candidates, regardless of party. The top five vote-getters then go into the general election, where instant runoffs produce a winner with majority support.
This system brings stronger candidates into the general, and it ensures no one wins with a small plurality. Conservatives can absolutely benefit. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, endorsed by Trump, won reelection in Alaska under the system.
But whatever their ideology, winners have new incentives: to craft innovative legislative solutions for tackling the challenges of our time, to appeal to a wider swath of constituents and to vote "yes" — to be for something rather than continually sniping at the other side.
For now, anyway, this is a center-right nation, and Republicans should not be losing so many elections. With Final-Five, which will be up for consideration in other states, including Wisconsin, we can start to win again.
John Pudner is president of Takebackaction.org, a nonprofit home for Americans seeking true political reform. The organization's conservative solutions include: working for voter integrity through steps like voter ID; stopping illicit foreign money via groups from impacting elections; and supporting innovations like Instant Runoff/Final-Five voting to take away the opposition's incentive to fund spoiler libertarian or pro-life candidates, that often allow progressive candidates to win with less than 50% of the vote. Read more John Pudner Reports — Here.
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