RICHARDSON: What can be done to up voter turnout in Georgia?

May 21, 2014 

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time we changed our primary election system. I’m tired of being forced to make a choice in my choices all because there are political parties -- in this case Republicans and Democrats. Vote in one primary and you can’t vote in the other. And if there is a runoff, as there appears to be in the Republican Primary, you’re locked out if you voted in the democratic Primary.

My dilemna is two-fold. Part has to do with the primary itself and the other part is that we allow partisan lawmakers to divy us up in neat partisan districts. Republicans don’t stand a chance in a Democratic district and the same is true of Democrats running in a Republican district, so they don’t try. What we end up with is the primary really being the General Election.

Here’s my quandary. I would have really liked to have voted for David Perdue in the U.S. Senate race, but I couldn’t. Why? There were only Democrats running in the state Senate in my area -- David Lucas and Miriam Paris for state Senate District 26 and in the state House my choices were Democrats Nikki Randall and Gerald Harvey. Not a Republican in sight in November. If I had decided to cross over, I wouldn’t have been able to cast a ballot for two offices that have more direct impact on my life than the U.S. Senate.

I’m not one to present a problem without a solution. In California they moved to a top two finishers primary. The top two, regardless of party, meet in November. Sometimes it ends up with Democrats facing off and sometimes its Republicans. The jury is still out whether the system is working as intended. Washington state and Louisiana, while not exactly alike, have open primaries where candidates are allowed to state which party they prefer or not.

California has sought to fix the other side of the vexing problem of redistricting, too. The state has a Citizens Redistricting Commission made up of five Republicans, five Democrats and four “decline-to-state.” They have the job of drawing the district lines using pretty simple criteria:

• Equal population.

• Comply with the Voting Rights Act.

• Contiguous so that all parts of the district are connected to each other.

• Districts must respect the boundaries of cities, counties, neighborhoods and communities of interest and minimize their division, to the extent possible.

• Districts should be geographically compact.

• Districts can’t be drawn to favor or discriminate against an incumbent, candidate, or political party.

That is not the system we have here in Georgia, and so far, California is leading the way in this area, but voters did it by passing Proposition 11, the Voters First Act. This referendum seems to work for California, but the referendum system the state has is too easy to compromise with money and language. Similar to some of the constitutional amendments we’ve been asked to approve here in Georgia, California is famous for having language that means the opposite of what an intelligent human being would think. Sometimes when you vote yes, you’re really voting no and vice versa.

But without the system in California, where citizens, not just lawmakers, can get items on the ballot, chances are those changes to redistricting and open primaries would have never occurred. Lawmakers never call in fire on their own positions. They are not that brave.

Having said that, the chances are about nil that Georgia would follow suit, but there is hope. Most of the local offices with the exception of sheriff are nonpartisan.

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