Should Georgia Ditch Runoffs In Favor Of A “Jungle Primary?”

On Monday, Jon asked “Who Should Vote In Party Primaries” which prompted a good discussion on party registration and choosing nominees by caucus. One of the items brought up in the comments was the concept of Nonpartisan Blanket Primaries. I found that ironic because I had planned to write a post on that very topic…and here it is.

I don’t know about you folks but I didn’t like our new Court imposed 9 week runoff. Like all runoffs, the campaigns were nasty at the end and voter engagement was low. The length of the runoff also drained the surviving campaigns of much needed funds. It seemed to go on forever.

I’ve long been a fan of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) where voters choose more than one candidate in an attempt to produce a winner. However, IRV can be complex and may require the state to purchase new voting equipment, which would cost millions.

Another method of determining the outcome of elections is a Nonpartisan Blanket Primary or a “jungle primary” defined here by Taegan Goddard:

jungle primary

A primary election in which all candidates for elected office run in the same primary regardless of political party.

Also known as the “Nonpartisan Blanket Primary” or “Top Two Primary”, the top two candidates who receive the most votes advance to the next round, similar to a runoff election. However, there is no separate nomination process for candidates before the first round, and parties cannot narrow the field. In fact, it is entirely possible that two candidates of the same party could advance to the second round. For this reason, it’s not surprising that the parties haven’t rushed to embrace jungle primaries because they ultimately reduce their power.

Louisiana has used a version of this system for some time now, as has Washington. California moved to a Nonpartisan Blanket Primary as part of a series of ballot initiatives passed by voters in 2010. Obviously, what happens in California will attract a lot of attention because of the size of that state, but a quick search did not yield and real studies of the impact yet. 2012 was the first election under the new system so it’s too early to gauge the full impact of the switch. According to the Sacramento CBS affiliate:

In California, this year’s general election will feature at least seven same-party races among the state’s 53 congressional districts.

These races are in essence runoffs and I would expect that situation to arise here in Georgia, if we adopted this. But danger lurks for political parties when a large number of candidates from the same party jump into a race (from the CBS article):

The top-two primary has led to other unexpected outcomes. Republican Rep. Gary Miller defeated a more moderate GOP challenger two years ago to win a Southern California congressional district that is heavily Democratic. The two Republicans got the top slots because so many Democrats ran in the primary that they split the vote.

This supports a point made by Harold Meyerson in the L.A. Times:

The first and most obvious effect the jungle system has had is to convey a clear advantage to the party that runs fewer candidates for an office.

But won’t that always be the case in American politics? We have two major political parties, both with factions of various size and strength. These factions often complain that they can’t elect one of their own because too many of their kind run and split the vote.

Anyway, it seems to me the jungle primary is worthy of discussing and considering. I can’t find any evidence that this system increases turnout but it would certainly save money for local governments and the state. It also avoids the scenario where 5% or 10% of the public is picking who holds these important positions since General elections always have much higher turnout than primaries. It would allow us to move our primary to a date of our choosing rather than one picked for us by a Judge, which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion.

What do you think? Vote in the non-scientific poll and register your opinion in the comments.


  1. Doug Deal says:

    Yes, but there needs to be a majority requirement. If it was a 40% requirement, all a minority party has to do is to have a single favored candidate and discourage others from the same party from running, get their 40+ percent while the ~60% are split on candidates from the other parties and independents. A majority means the winner has broad support.

    I like complicated voting systems like instant runoff, but they are complicated and thus unworkable for the average person.

  2. Will Durant says:

    As I have stated here before, IANAL, but I still don’t see how the current system was ever considered constitutional in the first place. The taxpayers should not be funding any party’s selection process of their nominees. The blanket primary avoids this issue for me and I don’t care if the top two are of the same party or not. If there is a conflict within a party that results in their vote being diluted that is their own party’s problem. I have always voted for (or against) the person, not the party. This process would allow a voter more versatility with their vote especially in those areas where the party in local control may not be the same one in control of the state.

  3. John Konop says:

    The run-off system now has created a voice for the most extreme and cost us way to much money. Nothing is perfect, but the “Nonpartisan Blanket Primary” would be the best and cost far less.

  4. Charlie says:

    I don’t believe we should ever elect anyone based on a plurality. For representative government to mean anything, the person elected must represent a majority of voters.

    I’d have no issue with the “non-partisan blanket primary”. I also don’t think the method in which we elect people is in the top 5 problems with how we currently govern ourselves.

    • Ed says:

      “For representative government to mean anything, the person elected must represent a majority of voters.”

      I would the U.S. was represented in 92/96 and Europe is doing OK for a representative government.

      I get where you’re coming from, I’m not unsympathetic. Certainly with our two-party system it is… odd… that a candidate fails to grab a majority. However, I think as long as you get the most votes you are the people’s choice. Maybe a plurality also works best with a parliamentary system, too.

    • Will Durant says:

      For politically active people it may not be that important but I really think this could make a difference to get better participation in the process for those who are not as active. We have the potential of having 2 election days and 3 runoff dates in this mid-term election year. Does your majority still count if it only consists of the majority of the 5% or so that decided to show up for the runoffs? If you only have to vote twice per cycle it would increase the participation and perhaps blunt the age old lesser-of-two-evils complaint if the voters as a whole are selecting both of them.

      Non-partisan blanket primaries open to anyone paying the fees will likely still result in R vs D 95% of the time. With only the citizens themselves to blame or praise, but with only 2 dates to concern themselves with as well, thus increasing their importance to do so.

  5. Loren says:

    I have my reservations about the jungle primary, but I don’t think it should even be *considered* unless its implementation were accompanied by an overhaul of Georgia’s ballot access laws.

    As it stands now, there’s only one third party in Georgia that has ANY ballot access, and that’s only on statewide ballots. (No third party candidate has been appeared on a regular general election ballot for the US House of Representatives since the law was implemented in the 1940s. It’s *that* hard to get on the ballot.) And the petition numbers to get an individual candidate onto a ballot are sometimes higher than the number who vote for major party candidates in primaries.

    Implementing a jungle primary while retaining Georgia’s highly restrictive ballot access rules would virtually erase the opportunity for third party involvement in elections. Almost no third party candidates would be allowed to put their names on the primary ballot, and the nature of the jungle primary would mean that they probably wouldn’t appear on the general election ballot at all. But make the jungle primary *truly* open, and then maybe there’s something to consider.

  6. Dr. Monica Henson says:

    I like the jungle primary proposition. Runoffs are brutal and expensive, and the benefits to the winner come at Pyrrhic expense to the party/ies.

  7. saltycracker says:

    Non-partisan blanket primary (open accessibility)
    Each candidate must declare in their filing the top 5 actions/bills they plan to support

    Term limits would be a major boost to the process

  8. FranInAtlanta says:

    I like it as it is now. It lets me vote for my first choice in the general primary, see who makes the second round, then choose between them. Without the runoff, one must give a lot of thought to voting for the most favorable candidate who has a chance to make the runoff.

  9. Ed says:

    “IRV can be complex and may require the state to purchase new voting equipment, which would cost millions.”

    As opposed to our current system?

  10. Ellynn says:

    Some offices already do open primaries.

    Savannah Chatham County School Board Chairman is a non party election. The primary is a win with 50% + 1 just life a party. If no one has over 50%, you get the top two runner ups. The last outcome was most likely different then what it would have been if it was by party. In this case it was a good thing for the dirtrict. The current Chairwoman elect has support from both parties and from all seven district. The election cost no more then a party primary, and anyone who cast a vote that day had say.

  11. I should have included this in my original post, but I think moving to a jungle primary might open up ballot access. Here’s this from Wikipedia:

    California’s blanket primary system was ruled unconstitutional in California Democratic Party v. Jones in 2000 because it forced political parties to associate with candidates they did not endorse. Then in 2004, Proposition 62, an initiative to bring the nonpartisan blanket primary to California, failed with only 46% of the vote. However, Proposition 14, a nearly identical piece of legislation, passed on the June 2010 ballot with 53.7% of the vote.[11]

    Under Proposition 14, statewide and congressional candidates in California, regardless of party preference, participate in the nonpartisan blanket primary. However, a candidate must prefer the major party on the ballot that they are registered in. After the June primary election, the top two candidates advance to the November general election.

    This does not affect the presidential primary, local offices, or non-partisan offices such as judges and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

    One way around that would be to allow the GOP and Dems to qualify the candidates but still place them on one ballot. I imagine the political parties would not be in favor of a jungle primary where they no longer qualify candidates since they get to keep half of the qualification fees. That’s an issue we’ll have to consider as we think about this.

    • Loren says:

      “One way around that would be to allow the GOP and Dems to qualify the candidates but still place them on one ballot. I imagine the political parties would not be in favor of a jungle primary where they no longer qualify candidates since they get to keep half of the qualification fees.”

      And I expect third party candidates would not in favor of a system where they have to pay a party they’re running AGAINST for permission to appear on the ballot.

  12. South Fulton Guy says:

    The current GA Elections System from Diebold now ES&S cannot technically support Instant Runoff Voting and I do not think GA is ready to spend $80-100 million to replace it even if there were a viable product on the market to buy.

  13. Charlie says:

    Re: The parties keeping 1/2 of qualifying fees:

    In the modern era of politics money comes from so many angles that I find it hard for this to be a reason to keep the status quo.

    Let (a hopefully reorganized/rechartered) state ethics commission qualify all the candidates, and let them use that as extra needed funding rather than continuing to raise the fees on late filings or other minor transgressions from those that are actually operating within the documented/regulated system.

  14. Sherena Arrington says:

    I already lived in a state with plurality voting. It was a sad excuse for representational government. A congressional candidate won the Republican Primary with around 23 percent of the vote out of a field of around 11 or so candidates. It was over two decades ago, so my memory is a little fuzzy on the exact details, but the field was definitely over 10 candidates, could have been 13. In addition, in this overall conversation, I also believe people need to declare what parties they belong to and only be able to vote in their declared party’s primary.

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