Timothy Egan writing an opinion piece in the New York Times, argues for a change in the primary process that favors moderates over extremists with a top two primary system where all candidates appear on a single ballot in the first round and the top two finishers (even if of the same political party) advance to the second round.
This is one option, and for all practical purposes, it eliminates the role that political parties play in nominating candidates for political office entirely.
The alternative would be to go in the completely opposite direction, for which England is a prototypical example, in which party insiders, rather than the party rank and file in a primary election, interview, vet and decide upon which candidates to run in an election, giving political parties complete control over their nominees whom they generally screen on a variety of criteria similar to those in a hiring decision which keeps out crazies by a very different mechanism.
The English system, like all parliamentary systems, also means that the individual within the party who will serve as Prime Minister for the country if their party (possibly in coalition with other smaller parties) secures a majority in parliament is chosen by their elected legislator peers within their party (and can be quickly removed by those same peers if the person they select goes off the rails, or by the legislature as a whole if enough members of the ruling party defect to cause it to lose its majority), rather than having a national head of government selected by the general public as countries with strong President systems do.
Eagan makes his case for stripping parties of the power to nominate as follows:
The two Republican House members from Washington State who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump will not only survive their next election but do even better in 2022 than they did last year. . . .They will win because Washington is one of the few states where voters have designed a method to keep extremists from both parties on the fringe of politics. It’s something the rest of the country could learn from.In other words, how can we save the Republican Party, now in the midst of a fight over its confused and darkened soul? Take it away from Republican Party activists and give it to the people. We already have a way to make it work.Hear me out. In Washington, along with California, the top two vote-getters in a congressional primary, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election. Sometimes two Democrats make the final. Sometimes two Republicans. Often, it’s one of each, with partisan zealots left out. . . .In a top-two primary system, Ms. Herrera Beutler will almost certainly make the runoff, even if another Republican gets more Republican-leaning votes in the primary. But in the general, she’ll pick up independents and many Democrats, as she did in the past. She won by 13 percentage points last November, in a district that Mr. Trump carried by 4 points.Removing the leverage to knock out Ms. Herrera Beutler in the primary allows her to be more accountable to her constituents than to her party. Little wonder that she’s also a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.Mr. Newhouse has already survived an attack from the far right, in 2014, when he got only 26 percent of the primary vote, versus 32 percent for the right-winger. Still, that was enough to make it to the November election, where he beat the extremist with the help of Democrats and independents. He has won by wide margins since then.Kim Wyman, Washington’s Republican secretary of state, said the top-two (or four) open primary system encourages higher turnout and promotes candidates with a broader reach. “You have to appeal to a wider group of voters than your base,” she told me. “For a lot of states, this is a radical concept — giving voters the choice and the power.”With top-two primaries, the incentive is actually to take more risk; the more voters you appeal to of all political stripes, the better your chance of winning office.The downside of the top-two system is that it might leave, say, a majority-Democratic district without a Democratic candidate in the general election. If something like a half-dozen Democratic candidates were to split the primary vote equally, it could allow two Republicans to get just enough to make the general.In that instance, one-party choice can mean no choice for the party left off the general election ballot. This system also makes it very hard for minor-party candidates to advance.The parties hate this system. Which is why all three states that have these types of races had to do it by vote of the people. (In November, Alaskans voted in favor of top-four primaries. Nebraska has top-two primaries for state legislative races.)In a heavily one-party state, this system probably wouldn’t save a profile in courage. Representative Liz Cheney, now under ferocious attack by Trumpers in Wyoming for her vote to impeach, might be doomed in a state that Mr. Trump took by 43 points.But such primaries could protect Representative Dan Valadao of California, another one of the 10 Republicans on the side of impeachment. President Biden carried his district, but Mr. Valadao attracted enough votes from both sides to win.
Ballotpedia sums up the different options:
In general, there are two broad criteria by which primary elections can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction:
Terms of participation: In jurisdictions that conduct partisan primaries, who can vote in a party's primary? Is participation limited to registered party members, or can other eligible voters (such as unaffiliated voters or voters belonging to other parties) participate? In general, there are three basic types of primary election participation models: open primaries, closed primaries, and semi-closed primaries.Methods for determining the election's outcome: What share of the total votes cast does a candidate have to receive in order to advance to the general election? Methods for determining primary election outcomes include plurality voting systems, majority voting systems, and top-two primaries.Terms of participationThe terms of participation in primary elections vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (and, sometimes, within a jurisdiction; different political parties may enforce different participation criteria). In general, there are three basic primary election participation models used in the United States:Open primaries: An open primary is any primary election in which a voter either does not have to formally affiliate with a political party in order to vote in its primary or can declare his or her affiliation with a party at the polls on the day of the primary even if the voter was previously affiliated with a different party.Closed primaries: A closed primary is any primary election in which a voter must affiliate formally with a political party in advance in order to participate in that party's primary.Semi-closed primaries: A semi-closed primary is one in which previously unaffiliated voters can participate in the primary of their choosing. Voters who previously affiliated with a political party who did not change their affiliations in advance cannot vote in another party's primary.Methods for determining the election's outcomeMethods for tallying votes to determine a primary election's outcome include the following:Plurality voting system: In plurality systems, the candidate who wins the largest share of the vote wins the election. The candidate need not win an outright majority to be elected. These systems are sometimes referred to as first-past-the-post or winner-take-all.Majority voting system: In majority systems, a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote in order to win the election. In the event that no candidate wins an outright majority, a runoff election is held between the top two vote-getters. For this reason, majority systems are sometimes referred to as two-round systems. Ranked-choice voting is a specific type of majority voting system that may also be used in primary elections.Top-two primaries: A top-two primary is one in which all candidates are listed on the same primary election ballot; the top two vote-getters, regardless of their partisan affiliations, advance to the general election. Consequently, it is possible that two candidates belonging to the same political party could win in a top-two primary and face off in the general election.
A top-two primary should not be confused with a blanket primary. In a blanket primary, all candidates are listed on the same primary ballot; the top vote-getter from each party participating in the primary advances to the general election.
Primary election systems used in WashingtonIn 22 states, at least one political party utilizes open primaries to nominate partisan candidates for congressional and state-level (e.g. state legislators, governors, etc.) offices. In 15 states, at least one party utilizes closed primaries to nominate partisan candidates for these offices. In 14 states, at least one party utilizes semi-closed primaries. In two (California and Washington), top-two primaries are utilized.Washington utilizes a top-two primary system. In a top-two primary system, all candidates are listed on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of their partisan affiliations, advance to the general election. Consequently, it is possible that two candidates belonging to the same political party could win in a top-two primary and face off in the general election. Any registered voter may participate in the primary and vote for any candidate, regardless of his or her partisan affiliation.
A variant of a top-two primary is a top-four primary (which will much more often lead to runoff elections after the general election):
A top-four primary is a type of primary election in which all candidates are listed on the same primary ballot. The top four vote-getters, regardless of their partisan affiliations, advance to the general election. Consequently, it is possible for four candidates belonging to the same political party to win in a top-four primary and face off in the general election.