Following a year in which all 122 incumbent Virginia legislators who ran for re-election won their races, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, has introduced a constitutional amendment to institute top-two primaries in which all candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same ballot.
Rasoul, who introduced similar legislation last year, hopes to limit the influence of political parties in primaries by combining all candidates for a specific state office to one ballot, and then the top-two vote-getters would advance to the general election.
“We want to ensure that we have a much more democratic process,” Rasoul said. “And this would have more competitive elections, but more importantly, would encourage legislators to listen to the majority of their constituents as opposed to the liberal and conservative fringes.”
The top-two primary system, also called a jungle primary, would only apply to state elections and not presidential primaries. Qualified voters would be allowed to vote for whichever candidate they want regardless of their party affiliation.
Rasoul’s HJ 541 aims to replicate public or open primary systems in place in Louisiana, California, Nebraska and Washington. Legislators in 10 other states have introduced bills for top-two, nonpartisan elections, according to openprimaries.org.
Proponents of top-two primaries argue the system creates more competition in predominantly Republican or Democratic districts. In those situations, two liberals or two conservatives could face off in the general election after having coming out on top in the primary.
Critics of the new primary system argue that is the method’s biggest flaw. It often pits two candidates of the same party against each other and makes it harder from candidates from smaller parties to advance to the general election.
The constitutional amendment is nearly identical to a house bill Rasoul introduced last year. That bill, HB 1040, didn’t advance beyond the Privileges and Elections Committee.
In Virginia, constitutional amendments require majority votes in two successive sessions of the General Assembly to advance to the public ballot.