Friday, June 27, 2014

Open Primaries

Amidst all the commentary I've seen on the recent runoff election in Mississippi in which the septuagenarian incumbent Republican senator Thad Cochran staved off a powerful challenge from a Tea Party endorsed candidate named Chris McDaniel I haven't seen any discussion of the thing about the election that most distresses me.

There's been oodles of commentary about all the millions of dollars poured into the race by the Republican "establishment" to push the wheezing Cochran over the finish line, and there's also been much written about the sleazy, dishonest ads this money paid for and the tens of thousands of African Americans who were bamboozled by those sleazy ads into voting for Cochran, providing him the margin by which he won.

What I haven't seen, though, and would very much like to see, is some discussion of why on earth any state or party has open primaries in which members of Party A get to pick, or at least strongly influence the selection of, the candidates Party B will run in the general election.

I asked a political scientist friend of mine in the wake of the Mississippi primary what the rationale was behind open primaries, and he told me that it's done so that more people can get involved in the process. I was dumbfounded. I know I'm not a very smart guy, but I don't understand why Republicans should be invited to choose the Democrats' candidate or vice versa. Nor do I see how that's much different than giving Russians a vote in our presidential election (Hmmm. Now that's got me wondering ....).

Anyway, Mississippi primaries allow cross-over voting so that anyone can vote in any primary contest the voter wishes to participate in, and Cochran relied on thousands of votes from black Democrats to give him his victory. Had he not had these votes he would've lost.

Some argue that in a congressional district that's overwhelmingly, say, Republican, Democrats and Independents are effectively disenfranchised because their party's candidate doesn't stand a chance. They should be allowed, the thinking goes, to participate in the Republican party's primary so that they can have some influence. That, we're told, is what democracy is all about.

That, not to put too fine a point on it, is insane. If independents feel disenfranchised then the obvious remedy for their angst is to join a party. If one chooses not to be a member then one doesn't get to have a say in the party's business. It's the price one pays for the aura of sophistication with which one surrounds oneself when one chooses to be an independent.

If one's party has no chance to win and one wishes one's vote to matter then the recourse is to join the other party and try to pull them in the desired direction, but the argument that Party A should let members of Party B decide their ballot so that more people can be involved in the process is arrant twattle.

If a state has an open primary such that anyone can vote in either party's race then what's the point of belonging to a party, anyway? The only advantage there is to putting up with the incessant appeals for donations and the irritating robocall advertisements is that one gets to vote in one's party's primary. That's it. But if anyone can vote in any primary there's no reason why anyone should belong to any party at all. It would serve both parties right if in every state which has an open primary every voter simply re-registered as an independent.