Alaska Bill for a Top-Two Primary; Inventor of “Top-Two” Election System is Released from Federal Prison

Ballot Access News:

On January 14, Alaska Representative Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage) introduced HB 77, to provide for a top-two election system for state office and congress. The bill says that anyone who doesn’t qualify for the general election ballot may file as a declared write-in candidate for the November election, even if that person ran in the primary and didn’t place first or second. The bill also lets candidates choose any party label. The label can be the name of a qualified party, or it can be the name of a “political group.” “Political group” is defined in Alaska law as “a group of organized voters which represents a political program and which does not qualify as a political party.” There are no numerical or organization requirements to be a political group, so in essence a candidate could choose any label, and the label need have no connection with how the candidate is registered to vote.

The bill’s provision for electing a Lieutenant Governor is awkward. Unlike the other top-two states (Louisiana, Washington, and California), Alaska elects a Lieutenant Governor jointly with the Governor in November. However, in the Alaska primary, the offices are voted on separately. HB 77 says the gubernatorial candidate who places first in the primary may choose, as a Lieutenant Governor running mate, either the person who came in first, or the person who came in second, in the primary. Then, the gubernatorial candidate who placed second in the primary must run with the Lieutenant Governor candidate who placed either first or second but who was not chosen by the other gubernatorial candidate. This could force the gubernatorial candidate who had placed second in the primary to run with someone from an opposing party. For example, if in the gubernatorial primary a Republican placed first and a Democrat placed second, but in the Lieutenant Governor primary two Republicans placed first and second, then the Democratic gubernatorial candidate would be forced to run with a Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate.

Also at Ballot Access News:

On January 13, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards was released from federal prison. See this story. Edwards is the person who invented the “top-two” election system. He not only persuaded the Louisiana legislature to pass the idea in 1975; he also carried on a high-powered campaign to persuade the U.S. Justice Department, Voting Rights Section, to approve the idea. The Department had previously rejected the idea when Mississippi had passed it.

Edwards believed the top-two system would make it easier for conservative Democrats to continue to win elections in Louisiana. Louisiana has been using that system for state and local elections for the past 35 years. Louisiana used it for congressional elections between 1978 and 2006, and during those years, no incumbent member of either House of Congress was ever defeated for re-election (except in 1992 when, because of redistricting, incumbents had to run against each other). Washington state started using the top-two system in 2008, and no incumbent member of Congress from that state has been defeated for re-election either, since top-two has been in effect.

16 thoughts on “Alaska Bill for a Top-Two Primary; Inventor of “Top-Two” Election System is Released from Federal Prison

  1. paulie Post author

    I agree with one of the commenters at BAN, who writes:

    “Top-two” inexorably leads to a one party state. Whatever it is identified as is irrelavant. It will be the same people in power controlling both candidates of a single party with a single primary.

    With free elections you have multiple parties and independents, all running in the general election. Some may nominate candidates by primary voting of some kind that is limited to the candidates of the single party. Some may choose in conventions. Some may choose in smoke filled rooms. And, of course, independents generally select themselves.

    But, when you are limited to a single primary, you have created a single party. There will be competing individuals and factions within the single party, just as in the single party systems in Soviet controlled Europe. But it will become and operate as a single party. A one party state will then become a single state controled party. These are inevitable institutional results that devolve from the system itself.

    There is little in the American political system that is more corrupt or more evil than the support of a “top-two” state controlled, single party system.

    Corruption in the system leads to corruption among office holders and corruption of the government at all levels. Louisiana has been a model for corrupt state government for a long time. “Top-two” is total corruption of the system, if applied nationwide, it leads to absolute power and absolute corruption.

  2. longtime reader first-time alias

    That comment is insane.

    It creates, if anything ,a zero-party system … which is essentially an infinite-party system where independent nonpartisan politics can best flourish.

  3. longtime reader first-time alias

    This is the only thread accepting my comments tonight. I would ask the gentleman on the blogtalkshow why the La House has 4/104 independents if the open nonpartisan primary is so bad.

  4. paulie Post author

    why the La House has 4/104 independents if the open nonpartisan primary is so bad.

    They may or may not be true independents just because they are labeled as such, and there are things about the Louisiana system that are different in the way it operates than the Washington system. Richard Winger would have the details.

  5. paulie Post author

    It creates, if anything ,a zero-party system … which is essentially an infinite-party system where independent nonpartisan politics can best flourish.

    Not from the actual record. Look at Washington State.

    Independents and alt parties are banished to the primary, when few people pay attention. Establishment candidates are the only ones who go on into the main event.

    California will be even worse with no alt-party labels on the ballot at all, and no method to even retain presidential ballot access short of maintaining over 100k voter registrations all the time.

  6. longtime reader first-time alias

    The La lege also organized its committee assignments and much of its other business in a strictly nonpartisan manner, so that certainly helps.

    I think it may have started becoming more partisan in recent years, however.

  7. longtime reader first-time alias

    I think another difference may be that the first round of voting in Louisiana can just as easily serve as “the main event” if anyone gets 50% + 1 …

    whereas the Washington state system may mandate a second round? They should definitely drop such a mandate if so.

  8. Solomon Kleinsmith

    As much as is trying to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes and tell them this is the same thing as Open Primaries, this is not something that will work in any other state.

    I’m indifferent on nonpartisan, or lack of labels on the ballot, elections, but limiting how many people can make it through to the general election is insanely undemocratic. Primaries were never meant to do anything of the sort… they were just where parties decided who they would coalesce around… the right for anyone who follows the rules to run for office and be on the ballot is just as important as the right for voters to vote.

    I hope the various smaller parties can work with independents on this. I’ll do whatever I can to help.

    Solomon Kleinsmith
    Rise of the Center

  9. Maybe Not

    As much as is trying to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes and tell them this is the same thing as Open Primaries, this is not something that will work in any other state.

    It won’t work in any state, period.

    Top Two = Top One

  10. Alaska Constitution Party

    Re: Alaska Election Reform

    Dear Representative Chenault and Others,

    The Alaska Constitution Party, like many other Alaskans, is very concerned about the current state of the election system in Alaska. We believe that our laws should foster an open meaningful dialogue through orderly political processes. That seemed to be somewhat lacking in the 2010 elections. Specifically, we are referring to political parties, how they select their candidates, and independent candidates. Freedom of association to organize towards common social/political goals forms the basis of political parties. Therefore, why would we want nonmembers making decisions about political party nominees? We do not support so called open primaries. In fact, we question why the public is subsidizing political parties through publicly funded primaries at all. We would suggest political parties nominate their candidates by convention instead, each at their own expense. A given candidate could receive the nomination of one or more parties, which would be fusion selection. The various separate ballot lines for each candidate/all candidates would be tallied together for a cumulative vote total in the general election. How many millions of dollars would be saved by the end of publicly financed primary elections in Alaska? The Division of Elections should also supply a specific monthly updated electronic list of newly registered members to each party and political group in Alaska for organizational purposes. Anyone may already run as an independent candidate in Alaska, the current laws are sufficient to afford that opportunity.

    We join with others in opposition to HB 77. This bill defeats the purpose of organized political parties. It also limits public debate of campaign issues by artificially and prematurely narrowing the field of candidates. We hope HB 77 is soundly defeated

    We support HB 96 to set a specific number of registered voters to qualify as a political party. This will encourage healthy vigorous political debate in Alaska.

    Please contact me if you have any questions.



    Chairman, Alaska Constitution Party


  11. Alaska Constitution Party

    HB 77 is being heard by the AK State Affairs Committee this morning:

    From: JRM []
    Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 12:25 AM
    To: LIO Kenai
    Subject: My Testimony on HB 77

    Dear Legislators,

    I have written to you before regarding my opposition to HB 77.

    Alaskans expect that our elected representatives are responsive to our hopes, needs and ideas. HB 77 does not meet this expectation.

    Such a major overhaul of our election system, as proposed in HB 77, should never be rammed through the legislative process in such an unresponsive manner as you are now doing.

    This does not instill confidence in the system.

    HB 77 will damage our political system and will only lead to more voter frustration, disenfranchisement and likedly as in WA and CA endless lawsuits.

    I urge you to defeat HB 77 in its entirety. The status quo remains preferable to this misguided and false reform.


    J.R. Myers
    Chairman, Alaska Constitution Party

  12. Alaska Constitution Party

    Since this was likely the last meeting of the AK State Affairs Committee until January 2012, HB 77 has essentially been tabled! It looks like the “Top Two Blanket Primary” has been defeated in Alaska! At least for now.

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