Schumer calls for ending party primaries

Lauren Schneiderman

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday urged states across the country to end party primaries and adopt an open system to counter partisanship in Congress. 

In an op-ed in the The New York Times, Schumer called for a system — sometimes described as a jungle primary — in which the top two candidates with the most votes advance to a runoff, regardless of their party. The single primary would be open to all voters, including Democrats, Republicans and independents. 

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"While there are no guarantees, it seems likely that a top-two primary system would encourage more participation in primaries and undo tendencies toward default extremism," he wrote.

"It would remove the incentive that pushes our politicians to kowtow to the factions of their party that are most driven by fear and anger."

California adopted an open primary system ahead of the 2012 elections, along with a nonpartisan commission to help with redistricting.

At least seven of the state’s 53 districts will feature a general election with two members of the same party this year, according to The Associated Press. 

Similar rules govern Louisiana and Washington. Schumer said Colorado and Oregon are also considering proposals in their respective states. 

The primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) highlights the "pernicious effect" of the current system, in which mainly the extremes of each party turn out to vote, he said.  

"Mr. Cantor was not conservative enough for the fairly small proportion of highly energized, ideologically driven voters who turned out for the primary," said Schumer. 

However, he noted that the reasons for Cantor’s loss are still being debated. Cantor's team initially blamed his loss on Democratic voters in the GOP primary, an explanation most analysts doubt.  

Schumer also blamed the redistricting process and outside interest groups for the increasing polarization in Washington. The primary problem is most prevalent among Republicans, he said, but Democrats are not immune. 

"The dynamic could easily expand to include the Democrats, who have at times been pulled too far to the left, for example on issues like crime and welfare’s excesses in the 1980s," he said.