Com­mu­nity voice: Open the pri­mary elec­tion

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ken­nard R. Wig­gins Jr.

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.

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