Reforming primary election process might ease polarization.

Those who say bipartisanship is dead are wrong.

On at least one thing the two major political parties are pretty much in lockstep. They are notoriously reluctant to allow voters to slip the bonds of party power.

The most highly publicized arguments today are over such things as gerrymandering, mail-in voting, extended early voting, ballot drop boxes and such. Underneath the rhetoric is a contest of wills as the two parties jockey for advantages.

Let’s look at another reform that could give the people more power and the parties less. Namely, how candidates are selected to move ahead in primary elections.

Today, voters must ask for a Democrat or Republican ballot and are only allowed to vote for candidates identifying with the partisan label. That contributes to excruciatingly low turnout in state after state for primaries as only the most engaged partisans show interest. The result is predictable. For Democrats, candidates wishing to win a primary run hard to the left. For Republicans, it’s hard to the right. It’s a proven recipe for polarizing politics by erasing the middle ground.

Now throw gerrymandering into the mix, creating safe districts in general elections. Incumbent politicians fear “being primaried” for being perceived insufficiently hard left or hard right by the most partisan voters. Moderation is disappearing.

Reforming the way primaries are held could help. Consider two ways:

A truly open primary in which voters are not forced to identify a partisan preference and can vote for any candidate seeking the office. The top two vote-getters move on to the general election. Yes, that could be two Democrats or two Republicans. Or a Republican and a Libertarian, or some other combination. Why is that a bad thing? It’s not, unless, of course, one is a die-hard partisan determined to keep voters on a short leash.

Ranked choice voting, which has started to get some traction around the country. The idea is to minimize opportunities for a candidate in multiple-choice elections to be elected with a relatively small number of votes, while the majority of voters wanted somebody else. Ranked-choice is designed to identify and elect candidates with the broadest support.

These could be good reforms but are generally opposed by full-throated partisan Republicans and Democrats for the obvious reason. It empowers voters. It diminishes partisan control.

Most importantly, it would encourage moderation as candidates seek broader appeal.

Now wouldn’t that be a breath of fresh air?

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