Speed Reads

mixing primary colors

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer: 'End partisan primaries, save America'

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is now embracing a reform movement for party primaries: To get rid of party primaries as we know them, and replace them with the "top two" open primary system.

"The partisan primary system, which favors more ideologically pure candidates, has contributed to the election of more extreme officeholders and increased political polarization," Schumer writes in a column published Monday night at The New York Times. "It has become a menace to governing."

The top-two system involves all candidates running together on a single primary ballot, with the top two contenders — regardless of party affiliation — proceeding to a runoff general election. Its supporters believe that it encourages a larger turnout of voters in the open primary, and that candidates will try to reach out to the middle instead of the party extremes. The system has been used in Louisiana since the 1970s, and in recent years it has been copied in both Washington State and the nation's most populous state, California. Oregon and Colorado voters are considering adopting a top-two system this year.

Schumer also contrasts two recent party primaries, which produced very different results: The surprise defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) by an even more conservative primary challenger, and the victory of incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), whose campaign openly encouraged Democratic-leaning African-American voters to cross over into the Republican primary in order to defeat the more conservative challenger. Schumer cites Cantor's loss as an example of the problems in current primaries and Cochran's win as a positive development in working out political compromises.