Can Open Primaries and Two-Party Systems Coexist?

On June 24, incumbent Mississippi U.S. Senator Thad Cochran managed to overcome his primary challenger, state Senator Chris McDaniel, in the state’s runoff election. McDaniel, heavily backed by the tea party, narrowly defeated Cochran on June 3, but failed to gain a majority of the vote.

Heading into the runoff, McDaniel seemed to have the momentum on his side as a statewide poll showed him leading by 8 points. Cochran, however, managed to put together a last minute coalition of voters — branching out to Democrats — which many believe carried him over the finish line.

Because of Mississippi’s open partisan primary system, Democrats who did not participate in the June 3 Democratic primary were able to vote in the GOP runoff. Cochran was able to draw out more black Democratic voters to the polls, and many people say he was able to do this because of ads he put out depicting the tea party and McDaniel as “racist.”

 

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Conservative radio host Mark Levin described the strategy as “sleazy, desperate campaign tactics based on race-baiting, racial stereotypes, and fear-mongering.” This election appears to have only added fuel to the proverbial fire as more conservative, tea party Republicans and “establishment” Republicans battle for the soul of their party.

In a nation where two parties reign supreme, implementing an open primary that works is a difficult task. While open primaries are certainly ideal as a means to ensure more accurate representation, as long as the Republican and Democratic parties remain the only games in town, it doesn’t seem like it can function properly in a partisan system.

Cochran’s outreach to Democrats didn’t seem to be a genuine effort to expand his message to more voters as much as it was about securing re-election. Benjy Sarlin, writer at MSNBC, called the race, “the weirdest, nastiest must-watch campaign of 2014.”

Ironically, even though open primaries are supposed to help reduce partisanship, the party-focused system in Mississippi has not done anything to curtail a growing partisan divide nationwide. This begs the question, can open primaries and two-party systems coexist?

If Republicans and Democrats continue to be the dominant forces in elections, open primaries may not be as effective as they could be as both sides could take advantage of it, furthering partisan gridlock.

How successful can an open primary be if only two choices are provided and one side infiltrates the other? Shouldn’t open primaries be open?

Open primaries can only be effective if voters are offered more choices at the ballot box. The only way to eliminate these back and forth political games is to give voters a system that is truly open.

Photo Source: AP