Observers of our polarized democracy often blame party primaries for producing some of our most extreme politicians. It’s well known that the most vociferous and partisan activists have a disproportionate influence in primaries. Less well known is this: 44 states have “sore loser” laws of one form or another. These laws effectively block a candidate who fails to win a party primary from appearing on the general election ballot, as either an independent or as the nominee of another party. These laws deprive voters of a full array of choices. They are arguably even more insidious than partisan redistricting, which affects House races but not Senate ones.
Here’s an example. In the 2012 Republican Senate primary in Texas, David Dewhurst, the relatively moderate lieutenant governor, won 46 percent of the vote, while the Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, running an aggressively conservative campaign, won only 33 percent. In the primary runoff, Mr. Cruz beat Mr. Dewhurst — but with just 630,000 Republican votes, in a state of 26 million people.
Why didn’t the popular Mr. Dewhurst, a proven vote-getter, simply challenge Mr. Cruz in the general election, when all Texans could vote? Under Texas’ sore loser law, once Mr. Dewhurst lost the primary, he was no longer eligible to have his name on the ballot in November. Given that Texas is virtually a one-party state, Mr. Cruz’s relatively small vote total, combined with the sore-loser law, was all he needed to go to Washington and then orchestrate a shutdown of the federal government.
Full Article: Perverse Primaries – NYTimes.com.