2024 Election, Ari Armstrong, Elections, Featured, Gold Dome, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Colorado Democrats cling to party privilege in elections

Why, again, does the State of Colorado force residents to finance party primaries? Once you seriously consider the question you will realize it has no good answer. The state literally threatens to lock you in a cage if you do not help to fund party primaries with your tax dollars, even if you are not a member of any party, just because political parties enjoy this form of political welfare and the power that goes with it.

Whatever you think of Kent Thiry personally, he deserves credit for taking on the current system of unjust party privilege. Obviously no one who benefits from political party favoritism is likely to voluntarily give it up.

I was reminded of the absurdity of tax-funded primaries when my wife and I got our primary ballots. On my Democratic ballot only two of the seven races in my area were even contested. I didn’t especially like any of the candidates listed so I returned a blank ballot. The Republican ballot my unaffiliated wife got was even more ridiculous. It listed six races with uncontested candidates. This is a mirage of democracy, not the real thing. But, hey, I’m sure the candidates enjoyed the tax-funded publicity.

The one thing that the leaders of Colorado’s two major political parties agree on is that is that they shouldn’t have to give up their party privilege. Last Fall, Republican state chair Dave Williams, rather than address the merits of Thiry’s proposal, blasted Thiry as a “self-serving rich liberal.” More recently, Democratic state chair Shad Murib said nearly the same thing: “Billionaires [Thiry is rich but not a billionaire] are trying to rig Colorado’s elections to stifle the voice of everyday Coloradans by tossing a hand grenade into our democracy.”

Wow, isn’t it surprising that the very people who benefit from the current system of unjust party privilege and tax subsidies would rather demonize the guy working for change than make any effort to address the problem themselves. Apparently Republicans love welfare, and Democrats love unearned privilege, when they’re the ones benefitting.

Democrats Against Democracy

Murib and his Democrats Against Democracy crew (my term, not theirs) did not stop merely with painting horns on Thiry; they have actively tried to undermine the will of the voters should they back Thiry’s reforms.

Jesse Paul has the story: “Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday signed into law a bill that includes a provision that will delay statewide ranked choice voting from taking effect in Colorado—possibly indefinitely—even if voters approve the change in November.”

The amendment in question was brought by State Rep. Emily Sirota, who proclaims on her campaign web site that she is a “progressive Democrat” working to “strengthen our democracy.” So, yeah, uh, democracy is “strengthened” when people potentially vote to approve a ballot measure, and then Democrats preemptively prevent the will of the voters from taking effect. Makes total sense.

Polis signed the bill while at the same time complaining about Sirota’s anti-democratic amendment. Polis said of the bill in question: “SB24-210 contains important provisions to ensure the safe, efficient, and trustworthy administration of the 2024 and future elections. . . . Regarding provisions related to all candidate primaries and Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) that were included at the last moment and without proper stakeholding in the final version of the bill, if voters approve a ballot measure pertaining to those issues this November, the language in the bill will not be the starting point for implementation and it will be essential to reconcile the bill with the measure and to take prompt and good faith actions to successfully implement the will of the voters, and we are committed to doing so.”

Problems with ranked choice voting

All that said, Thiry’s plan, which includes ranked choice voting, is not the only way to end party privilege. I don’t think it’s a particularly good way. Does Sirota after all have a point? Is there something anti-democratic about Thiry’s plan?

I don’t think there’s any good argument for ranked choice voting (RCV) over approval voting. Under RCV, voters have to select different candidates in order of preference. Ballots tend to be long and confusing. And, as I explained last Fall in a pair of articles, RCV can in rare cases yield bizarre outcomes.

Approval voting, by contrast, uses the same ballots we now use and is easy to understand. The difference is you can vote for as many candidates as you want. If you want to vote for a single candidate, fine. If you want to vote for two or more candidates, also fine. The winner gets the most overall votes. Approval voting generally prevents “spoilers” and better-expresses a voter’s preferences. It is in that respect more democratic.

Thiry’s RCV is in theory also more democratic, but in practice it has problems. If, due to the ballot’s complexity, RCV results in fewer people voting or more ballots getting tossed, then in that sense it might be less democratic.

In video helpfully linked by Paul, Sirota said she wants to help “ensure that as new voting methods are implemented in different types of elections, we have a good amount of data to analyze to ensure we’re not undermining Coloradans’ confidence in our elections and that voters understand their ballots, and that communities of color, low-income voters, and those with limited English proficiency are not harmed.”

Sirota is not merely spouting pro-party propaganda. A law article by Brandon Bryer reviews evidence that “RCV ballots increase the rate of voter error.” A recent study found that “sixteen percent of [Santa Fe] voters reported having felt very (6 percent) or somewhat (10 percent) confused” by RCV. If voting is harder or more confusing, perhaps fewer people will successfully vote, and that outcome seems undemocratic.

My question for Sirota and her Democratic colleagues is this: Why didn’t you fix the problem yourselves during the legislative session, and thereby render Thiry’s proposal moot? The answer seems obvious: Democrats don’t want to fix the problem, because they, along with their Republican counterparts, enjoy the power and dollars that come at the cost of screwing over voters and taxpayers.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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