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State Democrats Stand in the Way of Open Primaries in Kentucky

by Taylor Tyler, published

The Kentucky group of independents known as Independent Kentucky has fought for fair representation in the state since 2008. By focusing their efforts on opening the state's primary system, they have made good progress considering the partisan stronghold state Democrats have.

For three years in a row, up until 2012, a semi-open primary bill was introduced in Kentucky legislature, which Independent Kentucky Chairman Michael P.W. Lewis says has been their greatest achievement so far.

“No one thought we could do it. They told us it would never happen,” said Lewis. “In 2011, within nine days we had over 2,400 signatures of Kentuckians from all parties saying they were in support of a semi-open primary. That was pretty big because that gave us the approval of the people.”

The semi-open primary bill, Kentucky Senate Bill 41, was sponsored by Republican Senator Jimmy Higdon, and was last introduced in 2011 where it passed the Senate with a 23-12 vote before being killed in the Democratic-controlled House.

If passed, the bill would have permitted "a registered independent to vote in the primary of one party for each primary.”

Higdon didn't introduce an open primary bill in 2012, but did voice optimism for the future of the cause, saying:

“Right now it’s an educational process. Every year that we’ve worked with the bill, we’ve gathered more support and I think in the foreseeable future this could very well happen in Kentucky.”

Lewis said that Independent Kentucky is now working toward opening primaries with independent Kentucky Senator Bob Leeper.

When asked what the biggest hurdle for independents in Kentucky has been, he replied:

“Kentucky Democrats. They don't want any kind of primary change. They have control over state politics here at state and local level and they see it is an encroachment of their power, system, and how they get elected. Most of the time you only have democrats running against each other in the primary and they don't want to jeopardize this.”

Kentucky Republicans have for the most part been supportive of open primaries, Lewis added.

“They are on the minority side of the voters so it's something they feel they can use to bridge the gap and get more voters," he said. "It's playing politics, of course, but we have to take the help we can get.”

Other issues Independent Kentucky has focused on are structural election reform, ballot access, transparency, and eliminating straight ticket voting, in which people vote for a party, not what a person stands for.

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