The open primary policy
proposed by Sen. Abel Maldonado in the midnight hour of budget talks is
not beneficial to California’s independent voters. It does not increase
candidate choice, it does not increase democracy, it will not prevent
the budget crises nor will it prevent the Maldanados of the future.
Despite the context in which it was presented, an open
primary will not solve budget impasses. The budget gridlock resulted
from California’s unreasonable requirement for a supermajority for the
passage of budget bills. This requirement has brought California to the
brink of fiscal collapse before and, regardless of who is in the
legislature, it will occur again unless the system is modified.
The alleged relationship between budget impasses and an
open primary is that moderate candidates might have agreed to a budget
earlier, and an open primary could produce more moderate candidates.
The problem of the supermajority is not connected to moderacy; in the
future, a small group of moderates could hold out just like the
Republicans did this time. Indeed, this budget impasse occurred under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the most moderate Republicans to ever
hold the California governorship. The budget issues are emphatically
tied to the supermajority requirement, not to a general flaw with
partisan primary system.
Revisiting the hypothesis that an open primary yields
moderate candidates: it is an unfounded hope. An open primary actually
allows for more partisanship. Currently, the top Democrat, Republican and third party candidates normally appear on
Californians’ ballots for state and congressional elections. In an open
primary, only the top two winners become candidates. This means
that in districts where Democrats or Republicans are the minority,
entire parties may not be on the ticket at all. A ticket could consists
of all Republicans, all Democrats or all unaffiliated as long as they
won the top two most votes. This worsens the plight of independent voters, who already feel hamstrung between only two choices. How about
one choice? Cutting out the minority voice in certain districts hurts
democracy there and will discourage turnout.
Beyond this, the open primary allows for partisan sabotage.
Republicans can vote for the weakest Democrats, and Democrats for the
weakest Republicans. This increases the likelihood that Californians
will get stuck with two incompetent choices born of bitter sabotage
voting, currently blocked by party based primaries. Republicans are
experts on Republicans; Democrats on Democrats. Party based primaries
do not reduce democracy or produce extremism; rather, they encourage
the candidates with the most sophisticated views within their parties
to win. Additionally, partisan candidates are always forced to the
center when they run in the general election after the primary. What
the open primary suggests is two general elections. This model is
unlikely to advance policy.
It is easy to understand why open primaries appeal to
independent voters, especially when Republicans do not allow
independent votes in primaries (though Democrats do). Many independent
voters are not amicable to committing to a party, or their beliefs fall
outside the standard deviations of just one party. In this context,
voting for a party-less candidate appears good, though it is not
actually good. The true solution for independent voters is ironic;
independent voters should strengthen their own party.
Being an independent voter does not mean being without
conviction. Independent voters typically hold distinct values; they are
often more moderate, but incorporate a higher rate of libertarian
values, also mixing in values from both liberal and conservative
heritages. Independent voters should put their democratic efforts into
strengthening the independent party into one that can put forth a
competitive candidate in a partisan primary system. Independents need
to provide a true independent candidate, not a partisan candidate
posing as moderate to win, the open primary model.
The hope that an open primary will somehow shortcut the
hard democratic effort required of independent voters to see their
views realized is foolish. Independent voters deserve real
representation, not just Republican or Democratic candidates diluting
their partisan platforms to win maximum votes in an open primary. We
must refuse seductive but misguided policies like an open primary in
favor of the hard work of democratic participation via party based
processes that safeguard the voices of the minority.