Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Open Primaries

Once again, you all have probably noticed that I haven’t been too active, verbally.  I tend to come hot and cold, especially if I’m busy and/or out of town a lot.  It’s been a bit of both lately, but I’ve kept up a bit on reading. 

Sometimes when I don’t post for a while, it’s because I have a topic that I really want to consider for a while, and I can’t post on other things while I’m into that moment.

This week it’s been the upcoming debate and political push for open primaries in Oregon. 

I read this article in Willamette Week called Come One, Come All last week and it set my marbles working.

      Under the current system, your party registration determines which ballot you receive. Republicans get a ballot listing Republican candidates; Democrats choose among Democrats. If you're an independent, you can't choose in partisan primaries. An open primary would eliminate the notion that each party can select one candidate to advance to the general election. In an open primary, all voters receive an identical ballot that lists all candidates of any party. Voters can vote for whomever they want, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.

I have been registered as an independent for as long as I can remember.  I really have felt that I didn’t want to identify myself with any one party, and in truth I try to listen to all candidates and keep my mind open.  I have occasionally voted Democrat, Libertarian and even others.  But I tend to vote Republican, and I finally broke down and registered as such, because I HATE not being able to vote and affect the primary election. 

More than once in the last 10 or 15 years I’ve uttered the cliché where I’ve felt like I was voting the lesser of two evils, not the candidate I really liked.  Mostly that’s because the primaries deliver candidates that the more extreme portions of each party can identify with, but the majority of Americans cannot.

Enter open primaries.  Brainchild of a Democrat, no less.

      The Open Primary campaign is a pet project of former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling. "I think the current system is broken," Keisling says. "The problem is an excess of partisanship that is amplified through a system that is of our own choosing and making."

      The fact that it's the party faithful who turn out for primaries, he says, means general-election voters are often left choosing between what he calls representatives of "the passionate periphery."

What I just said.
Who doesn’t like this idea?

      Neel Pender, the state Democratic Party chair, wrote in postings on Blue Oregon that open primaries are" a gimmick," and he disputes the idea that it will generate more moderate general-election candidates.

Actually, I challenge Mr. Pender to prove that it won’t produce more moderate candidates.  I’ll definitely be choosing the more moderate candidate from either party.  What happens when all those independents finally get to choose who they like from the entire field of Democrats or Republicans?

       Critics say open primaries would only raise the already-growing price of campaigns because candidates would face the additional expense of getting their message out to all voters, not just party members, in the primary. They say that reaching out to everyone also would produce watered-down policy stances, designed to appeal to everyone but satisfying no one.

Whatever, and you think that doesn’t happen now?  The candidates have to appeal to the broader market at some point, this just forces it a bit early.  Call it sharpening your principles for the primary, and you don’t look like such a flopper come general election time.

The folks at BlueOregon don’t seem to like it.
And this editorial over at the Oregonian thinks that it will promote apathy or something.  But I’m not convinced at either of the arguments.


Kat said...

The idea of open primaries has a certain amount of appeal. Like you, I was formerly registered Independent, but switched my registration to Republican in frustration that I could not cast a ballot in primary elections. From that frustrated perspective I really like the notion of being able to choose from the entire assortment of candidates, unhindered by party labels. My main concern at the concept comes from political realities in Oregon, which clearly has some of the most liberal politics in the country, mainly dominated, of course, by Portland. My fear is that, after the primary process, what we would be left to choose between in the general election for statewide positions would be the liberal candidate and the loony left candidate, with any hint of center right or conservative politics thrown out the window. The remaining choice would probably be pretty clear, but hardly one to inspire enthusiastic participation from anyone of the non-Progressive persuasion. As the process stands now, I can generally find some common ground in the general election with one candidate or other, even if my candidate ultimately loses, which in Oregon is generally the case. I wonder if the same would be true after an open primary were instituted, or if “liberal or more liberal” would always be the Final Jeopardy question. On the other hand, anything that has the potential to force candidates more into the middle ground by the necessity of seeking broader primary appeal is worth considering. Thus, I’m not sure where I stand on the open primary issue – but you’ve given me something to think about.

Su Elliott said...

Forcing candidates to be more moderate? How dreadful!