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Open Primaries

Bill Weld: We Need to Expand the Primary Electorate

The three contenders challenging President Donald Trump for the GOP nomination in 2020 -- former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and former Illinois US Rep. Joe Walsh -- shared a stage at the 2019 Politicon in the last weekend of October. There was a lot of talk of Donald Trump. The conversation opened talking about impeachment, the word "traitor" was thrown around, followed by conversations about economic issues and foreign policy. 

For a while, I was convinced that despite all the news of canceled primaries, no RNC debates, and changed delegate rules to make it harder for these candidates to get delegates and be competitive in 2020, there was going to be no discussion of it at all. And then, when asked about GOP policy, Bill Weld brought up the party's need to bring more voters into the primaries.

"We need to expand the electorate voting in the primary," Weld said, specifically mentioning the need to bring in more Millennials and more women voters. He added that he has run ads targeted at independents and non-party voters in certain states, encouraging them to re-register with the Republican Party so they could vote in the primary in their state.

Then the subject quickly shifted to something else and there was no more talk of primaries.

Weld is right. The parties should encourage more voters to be engaged in the primary process. Yet the parties often condition participation on party affiliation, telling voters to sacrifice their right to non-association in order to be able to vote for the presidential candidate they want.

Weld brought up Millennials. Half of this generation considers themselves independent of the two major parties. In half the states that register voters by party, registered independents outnumber at least one of the two major parties. In 9 states, independents outnumber both parties. Over 40% of voters nationwide identify outside the Republican and Democratic Parties and there is no telling how many people are registered with a party just to vote in the primaries.

I know these voters exist, because I talked to a few at Politicon. They said the only reason they are registered with a party is because they live or moved to a state that conditions their right to vote on party affiliation. As it stands, approximately 30 million voters will be denied the right to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice in taxpayer-funded elections in 2020 because they don't want to be forced to join a party.

Expanding the electorate in primaries means creating a system that serves ALL voters -- and doesn’t give one or two groups and their members an exclusive advantage in the process. This is what the Independent Voter Project is arguing in California court right now. If Weld wants an expanded electorate voting in primaries, he should come out in agreement that elections at every level should serve people, not parties.

Photo Credit: AP

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About the Author

Shawn Griffiths

Shawn is an election reform expert an editor of He studied history and philosophy at the University of North Texas. He joined the IVN team in 2012.

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