Voter ID laws helped contribute to lower voter turnout in Kansas and Tennessee in 2012,according a new study by the Government Accountability Office. Congress’s research arm blamed the two states’ laws requiring that voters show identification on a dip in turnout in 2012 — about 2 percentage points in Kansas and between 2.2 and 3.2 percentage points in Tennessee. Those declines were greater among younger and African-American voters, when compared to turnout in other states. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) requested the report in light of last year’s decision by the Supreme Court striking down part of the Voting Rights Act. The decision freed a number of states from a pre-clearance requirement to run all changes to voting laws by the Department of Justice.
Would the dysfunction of U.S. politics be dispelled if we got rid of partisan primaries? That’s the contention of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Schumer argued that the primary system in most states, in which voters choose nominees for their respective parties who then run head to head in November, gives too much weight to the party faithful, who are inclined to select candidates who veer either far right or far left. The cure Schumer proposes for this ill is the “jungle primary,” in which all primary candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same ballot, with the top two finishers, again regardless of party, advancing to the general election. The senator cites the example of California — once the most gridlocked of states, now a place where legislation actually gets enacted — as proof that such primaries work. But Schumer misunderstands what got California working again. In so doing, he also misses the fatal flaws of the jungle primary.
Polarization and partisanship are a plague on American politics. Political scientists have found that the two parties have each grown more ideologically homogeneous since the 1970s. The Senate hasn’t been so polarized since Reconstruction; the House has not been so divided since around 1900. As measured by laws passed, the current Congress is on track to be among the least productive in our republic’s history. How did this happen? One of the main causes has not gotten enough attention: the party primary system. … We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.