The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

15 January 2008

Should we open the primary?

This morning, an Oklahoman editorial, noting the relative lack of candidate interest in the state's Presidential primary, hints that maybe we should:

Interest in the primary among Oklahomans isn't lacking. The Tulsa World reports a surge of voter registrations in the last two months of 2007, plus a wave of re-registration requests from independents who wish to participate in the Republican or Democratic presidential primary before, presumably, switching back to independent.

Unlike New Hampshire, whose primary allows independent participation, only those registered in a party can vote in a primary here. This is how it should be in most cases; perhaps the presidential primary should be an exception.

I haven't made up my mind about this yet. On the one hand, I hate to see the Independents and others frozen out of the process. Still, it's supposed to be an instrument for the use of the actual parties.

Any ideas?

Posted at 7:40 AM to Political Science Fiction , Soonerland

This is an issue that is only going to get bigger as the number of independents grows around the country. New Hampshire allows independent participation in part because 45% of the electorate there is independent. Neither of the major parties ever commands a majority there, and wooing independents is a political necessity. But the growth of independents is an indicator of the collision of two serious problems for our republic. The first is that, increasingly, the two major parties do not adequate represent the interests of the electorate. The second is that those same parties have jiggered the political process in such a way that meaningful participation by a third, or fourth, party is almost impossible. To say that the primaries are an instrument for the parties is, to some degree, to ignore the reality that those parties have made sure that they are the only game in town. If open primaries do not soon become the norm across the country, allowing independents to have a meaningful role in the system, some more drastic changes may be needed to address the shortcomings of the process.

Posted by: Kirk at 8:31 AM on 15 January 2008

Am an independent OKie I am not in favor of an open primary.

Let the two groups of party people pick their best candidate. If independents are really motivated for primary voting then they can register to whatever party they want. It is not that hard to do and the minor effort it does take helps select those that are interested beyond a peanut galley shout-out.

Posted by: independent at 8:44 AM on 15 January 2008

The answer is Instant Runoff Voting. Michael Bates turned me on to the idea. In every election voters rank-order their preference for the office. If there is a clear winner (with a simple majority) in the first round, they win and it's over. If no candidate gets a majority in the first round, the lowest vote getter is dropped, and everyone who voted for that person's second choice votes are distributed. If someone now has a majority, they are declared the winner. If not, the lowest vote getter is dropped, and his votes are distributed to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate has a majority. It has several benefits.

1. Every election winner will be elected with majority support. It is possible in many elections to have a winner (assuming three parties) with 34% (or even less with more parties). Rather than having winners by plurality there would be winners with majorities. A candidate comes to office with a stronger mandate when he has, at most, 49% opposed (rather than 63% under plurality win).

2. There cannot be a spoiler. A third-party candidate who splits the vote is not possible under this system.

3. Every vote counts--in every round of voting.

4. Costly and under-attended run-off elections are no more (since you have made your run-off vote instantly when you completed your original ballot).

There are more benefits. I think it makes great sense. You can see a demo of how it will work on the Instant Runoff Voting site:

Also, as long as we have preferential primaries, I am opposed to independents taking part in either party's primary. It's an in-house decision being made. Independents could form their own caucus and endorse someone, or get really organized and run someone. But as long as a person isn't a member of a party, it doesn't make sense to allow them to taint a party's preference.

Posted by: Tyson Wynn at 8:47 AM on 15 January 2008

I'm with "independent" -- the purpose of a party primary is for people willing to make a commitment to a party to help decide the party's nominee. The time for Britney Disengaged to have her say is in November.

Here in Georgia, the primary is sort-of open because the state doesn't deal with party registration -- but you have to choose which party's ballot you're going to vote when you show up on primary-election day, and if there's a runoff you only get to vote in that party's runoff three weeks later (and if you didn't vote in any party's primary, you only get to vote in non-partisan races in the runoff too).

In a presidential primary this is a fairly low-impact restriction, since there's nothing else to vote on and no runoff -- but in other primary elections it keeps people from smorgasbording the races, voting in the GOP primary for governor but the Dem primary for Congress, that kind of thing.

Seems to work fairly well. I think the idea of trying to increase participation in elections at any stage may be wrong-headed. I think people who don't believe they know enough to vote wisely, are smarter than most people who do vote these days.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:45 AM on 16 January 2008