2024 Election, Columnists, Elections, Jon Caldara

Caldara: Kent Thiry’s election initiative gets it half-right

(You can listen to this column read by the author, here.)

Colorado has the possibility to become the nation’s first post-partisan state.

As the number of unaffiliated voters swell and registered Republicans and Democrats shrink to all-time lows, we see a growing movement of people who have just had it with both parties. And why not? The extremes of both parties are becoming more distasteful by the day.

This doesn’t mean there won’t still be Republicans and Democrats. It means there will be openings for unaffiliated and third-party candidates to win seats usually left only for the two major parties.

Look no further than an unaffiliated mayor of Colorado Springs as an example of what may come.

A growing number of people in the state are looking for a new voting option. Multimillionaire Kent Thiry is offering one. He’s halfway there.

He’s backing a citizen’s initiative that would replace our party-driven primaries completely with what’s known as a “jungle” primary and then completely replace our general elections with ranked-choice voting.

I think Colorado is ready for the first part but should and will reject the second part.

Colorado’s primary system is broken. It often results in the extreme of a party making it to the general election. The current evolution of it has given us a legislature full of members of Democratic Socialists of America and their sympathizers out of step with their constituents.

A jungle primary allows as many people as wish to petition on from all parties, or no party at all, make it to the primary ballot. Thiry’s proposal calls it an “All- Candidate Primary Election.”

Like Denver’s mayor’s race, it is possible to have two Democrats advancing to the general election in very liberal districts, perhaps one hard leftist and one “just” a progressive for the liberal voters to choose from come November — and the opposite in hardcore conservative districts.

Though the extremes of both parties don’t like jungle primaries, the extreme of the party in charge hates it more.

So don’t expect Colorado’s progressives to be climbing on board the “All- Candidate” primary train. And since the hardcore GOP leadership doesn’t like the semi-open primaries we have now, they’ll likely hate this too.

The part of Thiry’s proposal that is baffling is after the jungle primary instead of the top two candidates going forward to the general election, the top four candidates go forward for a ranked-choice voting general election. Why?

Ranked-choice voting is a cumbersome, confusing, klutzy and chaotic voting system that was tried in many large municipalities in the 1920s before being tossed in all of them.

Recently under RCV in Oakland, California, a school board election was found to be improperly counted after the candidate who came in third place was found to actually have won the race.

The New York City mayor’s race took weeks to decipher a winner. And in Alaska, with an overwhelming Republican voter registration, a Democrat became their United States representative in Congress.

Most recently in Colorado, Boulder elected its mayor via ranked-choice voting with many shouting foul.

Also known as “instant-runoff voting,” RCV disenfranchises voters as after every round of counting one candidate is dropped from the race. If you voted for only one of four candidates and the candidate you chose was dropped, well your vote wasn’t counted.

Furthermore, the dynamics change in an election depending which candidates drop out. Think of how any presidential race changes when a primary candidate drops out. People’s preferences change as the field narrows down.

That is, given these four candidates I would prefer them in this order, but given only these three candidates I might prefer them in a different order. Sadly, I don’t have a chance to go and re-vote after one candidate has been dropped from the race in RCV.

It also requires a voter to know about all four candidates in detail rather than just two. A general election ballot of four candidates for every office instead of two doubles the research any good citizen must do to inform herself, making RCV a time-gobbler, not -saver, in the general.

The political reality is likely that Thiry is biting off too much for Coloradans to chew.

He’d have more luck reforming the primary system first by making that a fully open jungle primary, and then at a later time go for his white whale of ranked-choice voting.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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