A couple of laments about our undemocratic primaries

Photo (cc) 2008 by Dan Kennedy.

A couple of laments about the Massachusetts primaries, which will be held next Tuesday, the day after Labor Day.

First, voters traditionally don’t tune in to politics until after Labor Day. Secretary of State Bill Galvin had no good options given the timing of the Jewish holidays this year. But the Sept. 4 date gives a huge advantage to incumbents who might otherwise be in trouble, including Galvin himself. I don’t like the idea of an August primary, which a number of states have adopted. But why not several months earlier? New York holds its primaries in June. Sounds good to me.

Second, winner-take-all elections are fundamentally anti-democratic, especially in multi-candidate fields. No one would be surprised if the winner of the Democratic primary in the Third Congressional District, where Niki Tsongas is retiring, got 20 percent of the vote — or less. For that matter, U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano, who faces a tough challenge from Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley in the Seventh, won the Democratic primary with just 23 percent when he was nominated for the first time in 1998 with a 10-candidate field. At the very least, the top two finishers should meet in a runoff. Even better, adopt the instant runoff so that voters can rank candidates by their order of preference.

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