Will Big Money Donors Get Behind the Move to Get Rid of Partisan Primaries? Nick Troiano Is Working On It

American politics is being held hostage, says a group of reformers with growing access to big-donor money who define their mission as trying to set it free.


The hostage-takers, to hear them tell it, are the small group of voters who decide party primaries. Only about 10 percent of American voters choose about eight out of ten members of Congress, says a new report out Tuesday from Unite America, a group that is pushing states to adopt nonpartisan primaries and ranked-choice voting.


This small group — this 10 percent who make up primary voters in both parties — encourages extremism and gridlock rather than bipartisan cooperation, the report argues, in a conclusion that is widely echoed by many political scientists. This is due in large part because of partisan gerrymandering, the process in which state legislatures draw distorted congressional districts to give their party an advantage. 

As a result, in many congressional districts, the primary is the only truly competitive race, with the winner coasting along to victory in the general election because the district is designed to be either heavily Republican or Democratic. 


“Most Americans tend to point the finger at the other party or at both parties when it's actually the system itself that, by its design, produces the bad outcomes that we don't like. And so if we were to be as pissed off at this broken system as we are at each other, I think we actually stand a chance at fixing it,” said Nick Troiano, the group’s executive director.


Unite America is more than an organization that puts out reports, however. It is aiming to mobilize $100 million dollars over the next two years to push for open primaries and ranked choice voting in states around the country. And they have some momentum.


Kathryn Murdoch, a billionaire philanthropist with deep financial resources as the daughter-in-law of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, donated over $6 million to the group in 2020 alone, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Murdoch is on the board of the group, and she is trying to help persuade other big donors to give to the cause as well, which includes expanding access to voting by mail and ending partisan gerrymandering.


“An underlying challenge facing this movement is, one, a lack of awareness, but two, a lack of resources. There is so much money going into deciding who gets elected, over $14 billion last election cycle, rather than in how we elect, which was only about $30 million last election cycle,” Troiano said.

In Alaska, voters not only approved ranked-choice voting in November, they also agreed to get rid of partisan primaries and move to a “final four” primary. This means that any voter can vote for any candidate from any party in the primary election. The top four vote-getters will then advance to the general election in the fall of 2022, and ranked-choice voting will determine the winner from those four. Unite America spent at least $2.8 million in the campaign to promote the initiative, which was narrowly approved by...

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