| Ted Nesi | WPRI |
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A bipartisan group of prominent Rhode Islanders announced Wednesday a new push to change how the state conducts its primary elections for statewide races.
The leaders of the initiative — dubbed “People’s Primary” — argue the present primary system isn’t effective or democratic in an era when Democrats win every general election for federal and statewide office, usually comfortably. Republicans haven’t won a federal or statewide office in Rhode Island since then-Gov. Don Carcieri’s re-election in 2006.
The group released a white paper offering three proposals
Dufault, a former leader of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, said he used to oppose changing the primary system because he felt Democrats should be picking their nominees and Republicans should be picking theirs. But he said his view has changed.
“Over the years I’ve seen a real degradation of the primary process — less and less people getting involved, not as many voters coming to the polls, and the whole system really just starting to rely on the primary system rather than the general election,” Dufault said.
While acknowledging that Rhode Island’s current elected leaders have all won their offices under the existing system, Dufault said conversations he’s had with key figures have left him optimistic about the appetite for change.
As part of Wednesday’s rollout, the group released a white paper in a bid to spur discussion, offering three proposals for alternative primary systems.
• Top-two nonpartisan primary: This is the system used in California since 2010 and in Nebraska since 1936. All candidates, no matter their party, are on the same ballot in the primary election. The two who win the most votes in the primary go on to face off in the November election, even if they’re both Democrats (or both Republicans).
• Top-four primary with ranked choice: This is the system used in Maine and Alaska. All candidates, no matter their party, are on the same ballot in the primary election.
• Open primary: This is the system Rhode Island used before 1977. Registered voters can choose either political party’s ballot in the primary election, regardless of the voter’s personal registration status. Unlike the current system, a registered Republican could vote in the Democratic primary and vice-versa. Additionally, and again unlike the current system, an unaffiliated voter would not have to temporarily register with either party to vote in that party’s primary.
There is already an active discussion taking place on Smith Hill about potential changes to the state’s election system.
State Rep. Arthur “Doc” Corvese, D-North Providence, put forward a bill last year that would switch the state to open primaries. State Sen. Sam Zurier, D-Providence, is set to lead a commission that will study ranked-choice voting and other possible changes.