Opinion: No, Open Primaries Are Not “Nuts”

Writing for the Santa Fe New Mexican, Richard Block, a co-founder of Santa Fe Public Radio, avers: “Open primaries are nuts.”

Block begins his piece by saying:

“Every year the subject of open versus closed primary elections comes up, and every year I am bewildered beyond comprehension that there is such mind-numbing ignorance concerning the only — yes, the only — purpose for primary elections. The one and only purpose of a primary is for the members of a political party — a private club — to select the candidates of their party to represent that party in a general election. A primary is not a general election.”

But these “clubs” are hardly private. They have entangled themselves almost inextricably into our electoral politics.

They have written themselves into election law everywhere so indelibly that they have rigged elections in such a way as to make the two major political parties in the United States the only viable vehicle for elevation to public office in many cases.

They also dip into public funds to pay for their activities.

To this last point, Block says in his piece:

“For the record, I say right off that how primaries are financed is a valid issue and one that deserves discussion and debate and, likely, alteration. But this issue must not be conflated with the reason that primary elections exist. To conflate these issues is to indulge in illogical forensics. The two issues have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and one cannot sanely be used to affect the other. To do so is to indulge in a false, specious interdependence.”

It’s not merely how they are funded, but how deeply intertwined with our public electoral processes they are that makes political parties quite fairly subject to rules that open them up.
Wes Messamore, IVN

Illogical? False? Specious?

I think the connection between the two is pretty obvious. You can’t seriously call these private clubs if they are funded by taxpayers.

And use that taxpayer funding to influence how the rest of public tax money is spent by rigging elections, whipping their supporters up to vote for candidates favored and advanced by the party according to its own arcane internal power structure, and then controlling how these candidates write laws and govern once they win.

I appreciate that Block points out this is a valid issue for taxpayers to have with parties– can’t he see how especially valid it is if the parties have closed primaries? And how that connects tax payer funding of parties and the issue of closed versus open primaries?

But once again, it’s not merely how they are funded, but how deeply intertwined with our public electoral processes they are that makes political parties quite fairly subject to rules that open them up.

Block continues:

“It is a national disgrace that civics is not taught in our society and that, therefore, so many people are so ignorant regarding our political processes. I worked for the New York Board of Elections (New York has closed primaries) for 18 years, and I was appalled constantly by how many people told me that they wanted to register as independent because they wanted to be free to vote for whomever they wanted to in the general election. Such ignorance is terrifying. It makes me dizzy. I have to go outside and reassure myself that the sky is not green and the grass is not blue.”

An amazing anecdote!

And this actually illustrates how important it is to have open primaries. See, Block is saying in his time as a New York Board of Elections worker, he discovered many voters didn’t even realize they could vote outside their own party in a general election!

That’s how powerful– and closed off– the two main parties are, how restrictive they are, how well they work at preventing voters from being independent and voting their conscience and making their voice heard, rather than herding them together, as parties do, to amplify the party’s voice and the voice of its leaders only.

That’s why it’s so important to open primaries up.

“I am a registered Democrat. I cannot tolerate someone who is not willing to register as a Democrat telling me who will represent my party in a general election. To allow this would be nonsensical beyond any kind of reasoning. If a friend of mine who is a member of the Elks Club runs for president of that club, I cannot — as a nonmember — simply go and vote for him. If I tried to do this, I would be laughed at and thought to be a candidate for a rubber room. This outrageous absurdity should be obvious and clear to any and every advocate of open primaries.”

Block feels as though a non-Democrat voting in the Democratic Party’s primary diminishes his voice, but the reality in many races is the winner of the election will be one of the two people nominated by each of the two main parties. This diminishes the voice of independent voters, who currently outnumber the members of either party nationwide and in most states.

Also… the Elks Club analogy is a specious one.

If you’re not a member of the Elk’s Club, you don’t get to vote for its president, but the president of the Elks Club also doesn’t get to make any decisions that will affect you either, only decisions that will affect the club’s members. Political party nominees for public office however, are selected for the express purpose of being put in a position to make decisions that will affect everyone.

“If our state moves to open primaries, I will re-register as an independent so that I can vote in the Republican primary for whom I believe to be the weakest candidate of the Republican Party, the Republican most likely to lose to the Democrat in the general election. And I would ask my Democratic colleagues and friends to do the same.”

When primaries are open voters are free to cross party lines and do “sabotage” votes sure. But they can’t vote in the other party’s primary and their own in any open primary I know of, so they would forfeit their chance to influence their own party’s primary.

I bet a few oddballs may do this, but listen, if you’re saying the difference between the candidates in your own party’s primary is so insignificant that you’d give up voting in it to help nominate a weaker candidate in another party– then how can you really feel disenfranchised by an independent voter weighing in on that insignificant difference between your party’s candidates?