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Our primary votes cannot be taken for granted
We need meaningful choices
Looking at my sample primary ballot, I can’t help but notice that we have yet another primary in which we don’t have any choices. Both parties appear to make backroom decisions about who should run in the general election. Democrats are a little better because several elected positions have more than one primary candidate.
Here is how it feels: I am asked to take a moment out of my busy life and waste my right to vote on a ballot that offers no meaningful choices. What exactly is the point of the primaries if no alternatives are offered? If the unopposed primary candidates will win anyway, what incentive do they have to seek affirmation from their registered voters in the first place?
I am willing to concede that some hyperlocal positions don’t have enough people who volunteer to run. There are a few reasons for that.
In America, it used to be that only wealthy landowners could run for public office, and New Jersey got rid of the term freeholder but never really reformed the concept. We still have the problem that only people who are either independently wealthy or privileged enough to have flexibility concerning their income can genuinely afford to run for local office.
Most elected positions in New Jersey are unpaid volunteer roles. The Mayor, the Board of Education, committees, and the town council are prime examples. Some at county and state levels get a small stipend to compensate them for the expenses they might incur. That stacks the odds against working families who cannot afford to lose a source of income to run for office.
The other problem is that the local parties are aging. The younger generation is busy working and raising families to participate in local politics, and the elders aren’t necessarily keen on giving up their power. How do we encourage young working parents to run for local offices?
Local elected positions should be paid roles competitive enough with what the candidate would earn in their regular job, including benefits. That will also reduce the risk of corruption: a town council member earning a comfortable salary for their elected role has less incentive to have side gigs and conflicts of interest.
We need another reform to switch to ranked choice voting. Forget the primaries as they are today. Instead, on the primary day, we all get to vote across all parties on the candidates we’d like to see get elected. Then, come general, we vote on the remaining top candidates across all parties.
Even with our current system, we could end up with much higher quality candidates in the general election if we all had meaningful choices in the primaries. East Brunswick Republicans could drop the crazy, for example, if their committee people were not picking candidates who most resemble their loony selves (I will write on this in another post).
The system is doubtful to change. I like to vote in person, so tomorrow, I will vote as follows: wherever I see a meaningful choice, I will vote for the candidate of my choosing. Wherever I don’t see a meaningful choice, I will think about it — I’ll either skip the line or write someone else in. It won’t affect the outcome, but my message will be: stop taking my vote for granted and let’s find a way to have meaningful choices on the primary ballots.