04 Mar 2011

The Top Two Choke Point Primary Emperor Has No Clothes – Deconstructing Weak Top Two Claims

This is a insanely long post… but well worth the read. The issue of Top Two “Choke Point” Primary rules, which are being pushed by dark money groups like IVN and Open Primaries (who use loopholes in the law to hide their donors – AKA, they’re corrupt) are a major and direct threat to the possibility that the center of the American electorate will be able to form an opposition in coming years. The following is a nearly picture perfect example of how those that are pushing Top Two rules use dishonest, cable news-style, argumentation, spin and even – in a few places – lie to push this anti-democracy farce upon us. – SK


Defending the top two choke point primary, we have blogger and independent activist Nancy Hanks.

Deconstructing the choke point for what it is, we have Solomon Kleinsmith – founder and editor at Uniters.org.

Nancy leads off.


Why Top Two is Good for the Independent Movement and Good for America: It Makes Elections More Democratic

Top Two, a law that has recently been implemented in California under voter referendum Proposition 14, the mechanics of which have been upheld by the US Supreme Court [Washington State Grange v.  Washington State Republican Party, et al.] allows independent voters (referred to by the state of California as “decline-to-state”) to vote in the first round of voting — whether or not a party invites them to participate.

[Nancy wastes no time, jumping directly to the biggest, most frequently used bit of dishonest spin supporters of the choke point primary use to distract from what it actually is: they pretend that top two is the same as open primaries.

Note that nothing in the first section is any sort of defense, and keep reading to see how she tries to spin this bizarre, dishonest web.]

If voters who are not tied to the current partisan system (a system that involves two major and several minor parties that work in tandem) are not allowed to participate fully in our electoral system, there will be no development of our democracy and no innovative solutions to the current economic, social and political crisis we face as a nation and as a people. After all, it is the parties who got us into this mess. Why would we think they can get us out? From Washington to Wisconsin, the parties seem more interested in exploiting political opportunities than in attempting to solve the country’s problems.

[See how her argument is about open primaries, which she knows both she and I support, and not about the top two choke point?]

When Ken Bingenheimer invited me to do an online “pro and con” that would lead to “common ground” with Solomon Kleinsmith on the issue of Top Two, I was intrigued — and challenged.

I’m a long-time activist in the independent political movement. I’ve done it all: petitioned to put independent candidates on the ballot from New York to Texas and points east, west, north and south; fundraised for the independent think tank, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party (CUIP), and its online counterpart, run as an independent for New York City Council from Queens, New York City’s most diverse borough — and currently serve as the duly elected Treasurer of the Queens County Committee of the Independence Party of New York, conducted research for the Neo-Independent, a magazine that addresses the concerns of independent voters.

[We’re 328 words, and 1969 characters into her ‘rebuttal’, and she has said exactly nothing about the points I brought up before, nor anything about the top two choke point primary. I wonder why?]

I’ve spoken with and helped organize hundreds of thousands of Americans over the span of more than two decades about the crisis in our democracy and the need for the voices of ordinary people — largely unorganized — to be heard. Surely I could I engage Solomon on this critical reform issue?

Well, not so much.

[Another lie. She and I have engaged a number of times, on this and an array of other things. I’m engaging with her now, and she’s just trying to play the victim to distract from her lack of a coherent argument.

The only thing we’re seeing ‘not so much’ of here is an actual defense of the top two choke point primary.]

And I have to ask myself, “Why is it that third party loyalists are not listening to millions of Americans who want a transparent open democratic process?”

[This is not just a lie, but a bold faced, shameful lie. This has no basis in truth, what so ever, and she knows it. She’s not for open primaries any more than the vast majority of “third party loyalists” (I’m not even sure why she uses that term here to begin with – I’m not a member of any party, much less a loyalist).]

I think the issue is power.


Third parties have traditionally advocated (sometimes successfully) for reforms that have been adopted by the Dems and Repubs. Abolition of slavery, civil and women’s rights, social security — all reforms centered around human rights and workers’ rights issues.

Mission Accomplished! Job well done!

[She certainly has accomplished the goal of typing 460 words, and 2,760 characters, without once talking about the subject we’re here to debate.]

In America circa 2000, voters — many of them young, many of them people of color, progressive and anti-establishment — are no longer satisfied with marginal third parties who articulate their peculiar positions on various issues. They want full control of the political process.

[Not only is this false (and comically so – “want full control of the political process”? good lord… gimme a break), but *she* is a member of… you guessed it… one of those marginal third party. Not just a member even, but a leader. I, on the other hand, am not – though I would be if a centrist party existed in my state.]

Isn’t that the very definition of democracy? What can be done now is to develop democracy, advance the process whereby the people — not “some people” but all the people in our collective activity — determine how we are to live.

[545 words, and almost to the end of her ‘rebuttal’… still exactly nothing about the top two choke point that we’re supposed to be debating.]

Our political parties have far too much control over the political process in a nation founded on the notion of inalienable human rights; a nation founded by common farmers, slaves and landowners.

[577 words… still nothing, and again trying to pretend that I’m against something she knows we both agree on. But wait! There’s more! read the last bit, to see how she pivots to arguing against a point… nobody is making here.]

And for anyone who believes that California’s Top Two referendum is illegal, unconstitutional or born in another country, please see Harry Kresky’s most recent HuffPo article on open primaries and democracy and his defense of Top Two. Kresky, a leading national  expert on election law and an advocate for independents, concludes in a recent article:

“In this moment of possibility, it is important to remember what independents and minor party members have in common: a recognition that the major parties have too long placed partisan interests over the national interest; a belief that the existing two party arrangement keeps the policy dialogue within too narrow a framework; and a commitment to leveling the electoral playing field.”

To take this sentiment further, I believe we have gone beyond a moment of possibility — we are entering an arena of the inconceivable.

[She really has… 717 words, and exactly nothing that responds to anything I said, or anything about the top two choke point… in what is supposed to be a rebuttal… in a debate about top two primaries.]

Is it inconceivable that ordinary Americans will collectively take charge of our history? Look at what happened in Egypt.




Choke Point Primaries – Part Duex

Please forgive the cheeky title to this post, obviously referencing the parody film “Hot Shots – Part Duex” from the early ’90s, but Nancy’s arguments are so terrible and weak that they seem like a parody of sophomoric political spin.

Responding to her last line there – what’s inconceivable is how Nancy could write 736 words in a debate about top two primaries, and avoid defending your support of… top two primaries… the entire time. On the other hand, she did manage to lie a few times, change the subject, appeal to authority, and go off on bizarre tangents, like telling people to look at what happened in Egypt – which makes somewhere in the neighborhood of negative sense.

Having read the talking points Nancy Hanks, and folks at IndependentVoting.org, have been using to talk about Top Two over the last year or so, I knew she was going to try and cover up the lie that Top Two was the same as Open Primaries. I will say though… I wasn’t expecting it to be so blatantly obvious.

This is an obvious red herring – when someone doesn’t have a response to the actual issue at hand, one way to attempt to distract the audience from this is to bring up something else that is eye catching, then move on, hoping that the audience won’t notice.

One doesn’t need to know the technical term for this variety of rhetorical obfuscation to see that Nancy totally ignores Top Two in both of these posts. She knows that I couldn’t be more of a supporter of Open Primaries, as much as she knows the difference between the two election rule changes, and yet her arguments are aimed at me as if I’m a loyalist to a marginal third party… while I’m not even a member of a party to begin with… but *she* is, and she’s a leader in it, and has been for many years.

One might even say that she’s a loyalist, of a marginal third party. Because she literally is.

Its a shame that she’s stooping to the level of so many other partisan political hacks, to whom this type of underhanded rhetorical tactics are a staple.

Nancy is correct in saying that we need “new leadership, new ideas and innovation across the board that does not rely on current political alignments and the established institutions.” Unfortunately the data shows that Top Two makes it more likely that we’ll get more of this, with states that have these rules in place showing higher rates of incumbents keeping their seats than other states.

Again, supporters of the Top Two choke point think they can lie to you and get away with it, because most people don’t have the time to dig through all of the information to realize that they’re burying lies in their arguments – more specifically, they’re burying the Top Two choke point underneath open primaries.

You see, I actually want to see independents in office, representing independents. To get some perspective on this, I spoke with Eliot Cutler, independent candidate who ran for governor in Maine. He was, in my opinion, the prototypical example of the kind of candidate independents need to rally around in coming years, and he only lost that race by a mere 2 percentage points.

As I do, he thought it made much more sense to put a runoff AFTER the general election (a runoff – instant runoff is the best option in my opinion, not before the election, much less several months before it at the primary, where a tiny, ideologically extreme element dominate (which is what the Top Two choke point accomplishes).

Cutler’s campaign, which notably didn’t stoop to negative advertising, didn’t begin to really catch on until later in the campaign, as most of the general public really doesn’t pay much attention to campaigns until the general election nears. Limiting how many people can make it through the primary to two is the equivalent to kneecapping non-major party candidate campaigns that don’t have a wealthy and/or famous candidate.

Nancy’s second post is even worse than the first, in that she stoops even farther than merely dodging the issue. She continues with the red herring arguments, trying to shift attention to Open Primary rules… that she knows we both agree on, and isn’t being debated here.

She also knows that nobody impugned her activist resume. What she has accomplished as an independent activist over the years (commendable to be sure, but has nothing to do with Top Two) and attacking third parties (even though she’s the very thing she critiques – a loyalist to a marginal third party).

Insult to injury… she goes over the line even further when she stoops to lying about me, saying that I’m a member of a third party – which she knows I am not.

Personal attacks, obfuscation, dodging, distraction, spin and lies… these are not tactics that are used by those who are worthy of our support, no matter their political affiliation – or lack there of. California hopefully will be the last state that these people are able to pull this wool over peoples’ eyes.

I’m beyond fed up with dark money groups pushing corrupt agendas, under the banner of reform.

The reality is I’m far more of a supporter of open primaries than she is, or any Top Two choke point primary supporters – because I’m actually for open primaries, while top two closes the back door to primaries, allowing only two (meaning the vast majority of independents Nancy lies about supporting with the work she’s doing here would be blocked from ever seeing a general election, should they run for office) to make it to the general.

Nancy tried to make it personal. I’m responding by making it organizational. She’s convinced me to get more involved with the organization fighting for actual open primaries: StopTopTwo.org – a side project of Free and Equal.

You should be ashamed of yourself Nancy.

Author Details
After a few years of blogging on other sites, Solomon launched ‘Rise of the Center’ – the precursor to Uniters.org, leading to a number of interviews and freelance opportunities, most notably covering the 2012 election cycle on WNYC.org – the website for the largest NPR station in the country, in New York City – and reported from the floor of the 2012 Democratic & Republican National Conventions. After a hiatus from politics, the horrific circus of the 2016 election, and more generally increasing extremism and corruption, brought him back to this project.
After a few years of blogging on other sites, Solomon launched ‘Rise of the Center’ – the precursor to Uniters.org, leading to a number of interviews and freelance opportunities, most notably covering the 2012 election cycle on WNYC.org – the website for the largest NPR station in the country, in New York City – and reported from the floor of the 2012 Democratic & Republican National Conventions. After a hiatus from politics, the horrific circus of the 2016 election, and more generally increasing extremism and corruption, brought him back to this project.

13 thoughts on “The Top Two Choke Point Primary Emperor Has No Clothes – Deconstructing Weak Top Two Claims”

  1. Part two, sadly, seems to add nothing over part one. Nancy is still saying “Top two is great, because open primaries are great; and by the way, I’m a *serious* independent,” and Sol is, once again, forced to explain “Yes, open primaries ARE great, but that doesn’t mean top two is”

    It’s like Nancy didn’t even read part one. That’s no way to participate in a debate.

    1. That pretty much sums it up, yeah. I’ve been trying to get a straight answer out of her on Top Two for months on her blog. Not ONCE has she responded. Same with anyone affiliated with IndependentVoting.org

  2. I support open primaries, and runoff elections, but I do not support closed general elections in which only two candidates are allowed on the ballot. But, sometimes I wonder what if it were not “top two” but rather “top three” or “top four” or “top five”? Would that change your position on the matter Sol?

    One further point, you conclude saying that tactics like personal attacks etc. should not be supported, but, imho, your arguments and critique of Nancy veer into the ad hominem almost from the very beginning, ex. “Nancy’s posts are so terrible,” “she’s stooping to the level of so many other partisan political hacks” etc. I’m no model of political politesse, but it made me cringe a little bit. I think the anti-top two argument would be stronger if it strictly addressed the issues.

    1. I wouldn’t be happy with any sort of artificial limit. If I could only pass something packaged with other things with some kind of limit, the lowest I’d go is five.

      I’ve been trying to get a straight answer out of her for months, and she’s lied, spun and used all sorts of rhetorical games to distract from the subject… she’s doing it on purpose… and she even lied about ME. Nancy has earned every bit of that ire, and more.

  3. I live in a top two, open primary state (WA) and while I can see both the good and the bad in the system, here it really hasn’t changed the outcomes of any elections (that I know of). Or major ones, anyway. Republicans vote for their people, Democrats for theirs and the top of each just rise to the general election.

      1. If those two combined for 88% of the vote, I don’t see the point of allowing the third person, who may have received 9% into the general. If we’re talking about a split of 35-35-30, I have a huge problem with it. But I may be misinterpreting the details of Top Two rules.

        1. Eliot Cutler was around that at Primary time, and only lost in the general by two points. Without the whole calendar, underdog candidates don’t have enough time to catch up.

  4. Louisiana used top-two for congressional elections 1978 thru 2006. In all those years, only one incumbent from either House of Congress from that state was ever defeated for re-election (not counting 1992 when incumbents had to run against each other due to redistricting).

    But when Louisiana gave up top-two for congress, starting in 2008, two incumbents lost in 2008, and one lost in 2010. But Louisiana is going back to top-two in congressional elections starting in 2012.

    Also Washington state used top-two in 2008 and 2010, and no incumbent member of Congress was defeated for re-election from that state in either election. The people who think top-two shakes things up just haven’t paid attention.

  5. I made comments on this a few days back. This is a very important strategic discussion. We are so brainwashed by Ds and Rs. An open primary would mean each voter could vote in every election, D, R, minor party, and independent. A person who is registered in a party would be restricted to voting in their own party primary. By habit, almost no one votes in primaries, except the Presidential primaries. Even those are <30%. I worked the polls in 2004, and wrote this report: http://cs2pr.us/IVA_Opinion/031504.html
    Kerry won the D vote as a 7% nominee. Americans have given up on voting. Disgusted with Ds and Rs. These articles are all written from the moderate non-partisan point of view. Very rare. I love the viewpoint of "Rise of the Center." Thanks for your work.

    1. Exactly. Open primaries are a battle we need to be fighting, whatever form it takes, but coupling Open Primaries with Top Two “Choke Point” primary rules does more harm than open primaries does good.

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