A Democrat by Any Other Name: Open Primaries Could Weaken Titles but Strengthen Issues

In a rare instance, Democrats and Republicans have an issue to unite against: open primaries.

In an open system of primary elections,
a proposal state Sen. Abel Maldonado squeezed into the 2010 ballot in
return for his
support
for the budget,
voters don’t need to belong to a specific political party to be able
to cast their votes for partisan candidates in primary elections. The
two top candidates, who in some cases could be two Republicans and in
others two Democrats, could then compete in the general elections.

While open primaries would alter a long standing political tradition,
they mean golden news for voter participation, as they open the doors–or
booths– to nonpartisan voters. In cases where two candidates from the
same party make it to the general elections, independent (or independent-minded)
voters would have to base their decision more on the issues at stake
than support or betrayal of their party. And since politics–and the
sometimes arbitrary party lines within it–are not black and white,
moderates of one party may more closely identify with a candidate of,
gasp, another party.

In this system also known as “two-top primaries ,” top parties, the party-less and
even third parties could accompany the decision-making process from
start to finish, as having roots in a particular candidate could encourage
even more people to recast their votes. In examining 2006 statistics,
18.3 percent of registered voters in California declined to declare
a political party, almost double the 10.3 independent voter rate of
1994. This growing number surely has strong–or in some cases, moderate–opinions;
why shouldn’t they be allowed to express them freely?

Yes, California has made some concessions since 2001, when it enacted
a “modified closed primary system” in which parties can choose
whether or not to have unaffiliated
voters
vote in their party’s
primary. Yet parties have not always chosen to open up to outsiders,
seeing as the Republicans opted against non-party voters in the 2008
presidential primary elections. An open system would situate outsider
participation into law rather than fluctuating party whims.

As a supporter of open primaries, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stressed that it is important that
issues would come first. “It’s not good for politics. But remember,
what’s not good for politics is good for the people.”

Some like to point out that open primaries would simply lead to further
political polarization. Parts of Orange County would be dominated by
only Republicans whereas San Francisco would cross into the radical
left, fueled politically by only Peace and Freedom Party leaders posing
as Democrats, right? Well, the system would still represent the views
of the voting populous. Who is to say that a Democrat would not win
the race just because they were running alongside a Republican? Another
Democrat could detract votes just as easily, even if it were a closer
call. As all candidates, and their viewpoints, are put on the table
in the beginning, the two runner-ups will simply reflect what the people
want outside of what traditional closed primaries have mandated. Even
the ballot measure’s passage itself will fairly represent California,
as voters will be able to decide in June 2010 whether or not they want
to switch systems.

Not all of Maldonado’s concessions
for his vote are to applauded, such as scratching the 12-cent gas hike.
Yet through his open primary proposal, he has gotten to the complicated
heart of politics, and revealed what it is missing. Open primaries would
be a better way of fostering involvement in the political process–with
the only big loss being that of a tradition that stands to be altered.