Community voice: Open the primary election
I congratulate our recent primary election winners on their victories, but I regret that our closed primary system offers so few choices.
In a previous election, I served as an election judge, and I saw a number of young first-time voters arrive at the primary election polls eager to cast their ballot, but who were dismayed to learn that because they were not affiliated with a major party, they did not have a vote.
We had two council seats contested by four Republican candidates. Sadly, no Democratic candidates chose to run. These seats will govern a county of over 100,000 citizens, but the unaffiliated, independents and Democrats will have no say whatsoever in their own governance. The winning candidates were elected by something less than a quarter of the populace. You may choose your favorite conservative Republican, but only if you are of that political party. If not, then you had no voice.
This might matter little if it was the Lions Club or the Ladies Garden Society. But it does matter to each of us who must live under the governance of those selected for us, by this minority plurality.
If our primary election was an open primary, the franchise would be extended to all voters to have a voice in their own governance under these circumstances. An open primary allows registered voters to cross party lines and vote for a slate in either of the two major parties. It would enfranchise the unaffiliated and the independent voter (about 40 percent of the electorate) in the process of selecting candidates for of- fice, easily just as important as the final election itself.
An open primary would have another benefit besides broadening the voter base, by allowing extended participation. Our candidates would have to factor these additional voters into their calculations. Typically they take one exaggerated position during the primary and then they tack toward the center for the final election. This process corrupts, in the sense that candidates must shift their positions and views to appeal first to an extreme wing, and then later to a wider audience. It can be difficult to know who the real candidate is and where they really stand amidst flip-flopping positions.
In an open primary candidates would be forced to moderate their views to appeal to a larger cohort. This would foster nuance and choices within the parties at the expense of rigid ideological orthodoxy.
We have evolved a sort of team mentality regarding politics. “My side can do no wrong and yours is evil incarnate.” The rest of us are mere spectators, but the game affects us all nevertheless. Open primaries permit the unaffiliated to play. Allowing increased participation might help to leaven this extreme partisanship.
Our elected officials have a responsibility to govern all our citizens, not just those who elected them. Governance requires setting priorities within constrained resources. It requires servicing the needs of every citizen.
In the end, an election process lasts a few months, but a governing term is normally about four years. It is important that all the citizens are afforded an opportunity to have a say. Not just party members. If our democratic republic is to work, it has to be a participatory exercise for all.