Looks Like the Tea Party's Gonna Elect Cruz Fair and Square. So, Let's Change the Game.
Texas will elect it's next senator today. Odds are, you won't vote for him. In fact, a good number of you, even if you're registered to vote, can't vote in the truly decisive race going down Tuesday, because you were dumb enough to vote in the Democratic primary in May.
Ted Cruz. Wait ... how did that happen?
So, let's all clap our hands and welcome newly minted U.S. Senator Te ... Te ... Ted ... Cr ... Cr ....
Yeah. Him. Don't make us say it.
OK, technically Cruz might not be elected to the Senate today. After all, GOP runoff opponent David "I Am the Anointed" Dewhurst is on the ballot too, but a weekend independent poll from Public Policy Polling shows the Tea Party darling leading Dewhurst by 10 percent. Yeah, yeah and technically whoever wins the GOP runoff (Cruz) will face a Democrat in the general election in November.
Hah! Right. Try this: Without using Google, name the two candidates competing for U.S. Senate in today's Democratic runoff. Take your time. No rush.
Time's up: They're former state Representative Paul Sadler and Grady Yarbrough, a 75-year-old retired school teacher. In a state that hasn't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, you can just call them Snowball's Chance 1 and Snowball's Chance 2.
You know, there must be something wrong with a system in which a good, honorable voters (namely, me and people who agree with me) are essentially disenfranchised. Consider this:
The most recent GOP primary runoffs for Senate were won by Kay Bailey Hutchison, whom Cruz or Dewhurst (Cruz) is likely to replace. Voter turnout in those runoffs, according to the Texas Secretary of State, was 2.24 percent in 1994 and 2.41 percent in 2006. Early voting numbers in today's election show turnout is running slightly higher than typical for a statewide runoff, but in all likelihood, the next Texas member of the U.S. Senate will for all intents and purposes be sent to office with the votes of something less than 3 percent of the electorate. (If you voted in the Democratic primary in May, you're not allowed to switch parties now, even if you've suddenly developed a hankering for David Dewhurst. Sorry.)
Now, there are two reasonable responses to this situation. One is to congratulate the Tea Party members on their commitment, organization and grasp of the electoral process and say they played the game well and won fair and square. The other is to say Texas elections are broken and, obviously, there ought to be a law to fix this mess. The latter would appear to be kind of small-minded.
So, what exactly are our options for a new system? (I ask merely out of curiosity, not small-mindedness. Much.)
They're not good. Unfair Park spoke with Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a nonpartisan think tank the promotes election reform. Chiefly, we wanted to know if there's any system going that would have allowed a reasonable, non-Tea Party Democrat to cast a ballot that's worth diddly in this race. Or even squat. Maybe by requiring the parties to fully open up their primaries.
"There's a certain logic to coercing major parties into [opening] their process," Richie said, "but it does come at a certain cost."
Chiefly, Americans are guaranteed the right of free association, so forcing political parties to allow outsiders a say in who represents the party is constitutionally tricky.
While it would be fun to crash the Tea Party and piss in the punchbowl, what if we were were talking about the Sierra Club here, instead of the TP? "When that group gets powerful, do we get to tell that group they don't get to nominate who they want?" he asked.
Um ... depends. Is the Tea Party about to take over the Sierra Club?
California has a sort of work-around system in which the top two vote-getters in an open, nonpartisan primary are automatically placed on the general election ballot. The problem with that system, which was aimed at producing more "moderate" officeholders, is that studies suggest it hasn't really had that effect. (Plus, no one can argue with a straight face that California is well governed.) Conservative communities still elect conservatives and vice versa. Meanwhile, a TTVG system makes it difficult for small, third parties to gain traction or access to the general election ballot.
A better system might be "instant runoffs," in which primary voters essentially rank their candidates in order of preference on primary day -- for example, in the GOP primary, you might have voted 1. Dewhurst, 2. Tom Leppert 3. Ted Cruz . If no one got at least 50 percent of the No. 1 votes, then the canvassers start adding in the No. 2 votes and so on until someone gets to 50 percent. This prevents a long runoff campaign, during which many voters lose interest, allowing the candidate with the most devoted -- or radical -- followers to claim the prize, as we're arguably seeing in Cruz's case.
Unfortunately, it also seems like something dreamed up by the BCS. Make things that complicated, and next thing you know Hugo Chavez is sitting in the governor's office.
Of course, none of the various primary systems used in other states -- open, closed, semi-open, top-two-vote-getter etc. -- have much more chance of becoming the rule in Texas than Grady Yarbrough has of becoming a U.S. Senator. So, chances are the uber-conservative revolutionaries have won, God bless their tricorn hats, at least until the rest of the electorate wakes up and starts thinking elections really matter, or the statewide Democratic party stops sucking so much.
You can call that prospect Snowball's Chance III.