If The Parties Can Ignore Primary Results, Why Not Let Everyone Vote?
Photo Credit: Keith Ivey / Flickr
In the wake of the Nevada presidential primaries, much of the media's attention has been on the fact that Nikki Haley came in second to "None of the Listed Candidates." It helps the mainstream narrative that the nominations are all but locked up for both parties.
The story that isn't getting as much attention is how the Nevada GOP snubbed primary voters completely when they decided to also hold a caucus that would solely determine delegate allocation. Voters and candidates who participated in the primary didn't matter.
This is not the first time in the early 2024 contests voters have been told their votes don't matter. The National Democratic Committee determined that the New Hampshire primary was illegitimate when the party didn't get its way on election scheduling.
The Nevada primaries were held on Tuesday, February 6, and the GOP caucuses were held on Thursday, February 8 -- with only Donald Trump and Ryan Binkley's names on the caucus ballot since candidates who ran in the primary were not eligible for the caucuses.
Over 70,000 voters cast a ballot in the Republican primary -- and none of those votes are considered "legitimate" by the GOP.
A Brief Background on What's Going On in Nevada
In 2021, the Nevada Legislature changed the state's electoral laws to require presidential primaries for the Republican and Democratic Parties. The reason many legislators got behind the change was abysmal turnout in the caucuses. However, the Nevada Republican Party did not agree with the change.
In 2023, the state GOP adopted rules that determined the taxpayer-funded primaries to be illegitimate and committed to sticking to a party-funded caucus system to determine delegate allocation. In a statement, party officials said:
"In doing so, the Nevada Republican Central Committee sent a clear message to all Presidential candidates not to register for the state-run presidential preference primary, as doing so would be contrary to Republicans long standing position against government waste and fiscal irresponsibility."
To the party's credit, it stands by the belief that since it decides its own nomination proceedings it should pay for it -- not taxpayers. And in the end, it is the party's decision to apply primary results to its nomination proceedings or ignore them completely, which raises an important question:
If states are going to conduct taxpayer-funded and administered presidential preference elections that are not guaranteed to mean anything to the parties' nomination proceedings, shouldn't all voters have equal access to ballots that allow them to express their preference for president?
Independent Voter Project's Public Ballot Option
It is a question that the Independent Voter Project posed to the California secretary of state, the California Legislature, and the courts when it spearheaded a lawsuit that challenged the Golden State's use of semi-closed presidential primaries when the state constitution calls for an open primary process.
The lawsuit was initially filed in July 2019 in hopes of avoiding the confusing mess in the upcoming presidential cycle that occurred in previous primaries because of rules that allow parties complete autonomy to decide who can vote. As a result, half of the qualified parties allow No Party Preference to request a crossover ballot and other half don't.
It is well documented that the system has caused millions of voters to miss out on a chance to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice -- either because they didn't know their limited options, were not offered those options at polling places, or they were registered with the wrong party.
The widespread disenfranchisement of independent California voters will happen again on March 5, when the state conducts its presidential primaries. The Independent Voter Project, along with 6 individual plaintiffs, sought a remedy to the restrictive and complex system, and offered a solution to those with the authority to amend the state's election laws:
A nonpartisan "public ballot" option.
As it stands, if a No Party Preference voter does not specifically request a crossover ballot for the Democratic, Libertarian, or American Independent Party (the parties that allow it), they will get a nonpartisan ballot for all elections, but while all candidates appear in non-presidential races, no candidates will be listed on the presidential ballot.
The public ballot option would automatically give No Party Preference voters, and any voter who doesn't want to participate in their party's primary, a presidential preference ballot with all eligible candidates listed and it would be up to the parties whether to consider the results in their nomination process.
The public ballot would respect every voter's right to equal treatment under the law -- in this case, election law -- and the parties' associational rights. It would be a win-win all around.
"What the IVP plaintiff asked: Do voters, including no party preference voters, have an equal right to participate in a state-funded presidential primary?" Steve Peace wrote. Peace is a former California state senator and co-founder of the Independent Voter Project.
"And, more specifically, are No Party Preference (NPP) voters already deemed eligible by a political party or parties to have their votes counted toward delegate selection entitled to the same ballot access protections as other voters?"
Unfortunately, the question the courts answered was whether No Party Preference voters have a right to vote in party primaries -- which ignored the main point the Independent Voter Project made, which was that election processes paid for and conducted with taxpayer-funded resources should not exclude voters deemed eligible by the state nor impair access to the ballot box.
The group even argued for and embraced the associational rights of political parties. This was never an area of contention. The primary contention was with a system that blatantly discriminates against millions of voters who want to exercise their own First Amendment rights to not associate with a political party.
Publicly funded and administered elections should treat all voters equally, and not relegate independent voters to a second-class status.
The parties will decide how to conduct their own nomination processes, regardless of the elections that are required by law. They could choose to ignore their own members if they wanted, which is evident in how the Democratic Party treated New Hampshire and how the Republican Party treated Nevada.
Even before voters in Nevada cast a ballot in the presidential primaries, the nominations were treated as a done deal by both major parties and the national press. They decided already that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee.
So, why not treat all voters equally? If the parties respect the will of voters, then they will -- and if they won't, they won't. The system gives them this power over presidential elections. But if taxpayers are paying for these elections, they should have equal access to them, no matter their political affiliation.