Close the Primaries

With significant ramifications for the rest of the country, New Hampshire is thinking about it: The New Hampshire House is scheduled to vote today on a bill that would end a primary voter's right to reclaim independent voter status right after voting.

The current primary system lets an undeclared voter cast either a Democratic or Republican Party ballot, then re-register as an undeclared voter before leaving the polling place.

Independent voters, who are not registered with either party, make up roughly a third of all New Hampshire voters.

I am all for this. I do not believe that independents should be allowed to vote in partisan primaries. If you want to declare your personal independence, radical individualism, and remarkable ideological dissimilarity from any significant portion of any political party, fine. That's your prerogative, and that is your right. However, if you are going to legally declare your detachment from the mooring of a political party by registering as an independent, I also believe that you forfeit your right to influence either major party by, for example, voting in a primary.

Interestingly, a move like this might lessen the possibility of future "insurgents." In fact, the move might even be fueled by conservatives worried about the resurgence of another McCain:

The Democratic National Committee has established a commission to study primary schedules for 2008, in which New Hampshire will have to defend its first-in-the-nation status. The committee's first meeting is next month.

"Having a large number of independents voting helps us make our case that the New Hampshire primary is a good thing," said state Democratic Chairman Kathy Sullivan.

She said voter interest in the primary will drop off among independents once they experience life under the proposed new rules, which would require a trip to city hall to change party affiliation.

"They may ask themselves, `Why go through the hassle?'" Sullivan said. "I think we need to do things that encourage people to vote, not discourage them."

Sullivan said Republicans began looking at ways to limit independents in 2000, after Sen. John McCain of Arizona beat George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary.

I agree that we should make it easier for people to vote, and I tend to like insurgent candidates, but I also personally think that from a self-image and affectation standpoint that registering as an independent, but still claiming a right to vote in a party primary, is extremely annoying (is that too petty?). Talk about having your cake and eating it too. It's like "I am too cool to join your club, but I have no problems altering the rules of your club." This is especially frustrating considering the exceptionally low rate at which self-identifying independents turn out to vote. Our crisis in voter participation in this country is a crisis among "independents." Among self-identifying partisans who are registered to vote, voter turnout is typically over 80% (this year it might have been over 85%!), while among independents, even those registered to vote turnout less than 50% of the time. Considering this, I should probably have more sympathy for independents. To be honest, however, I don't.

Tags: Primary Elections (all tags)



Absolutely right
In fact, I also believe that most independents are really Democrats or Republicans in sheeps' clothing. For example, the "independents" I know are almost always partisan in political discussions. They just decided to claim independent because they're annoyed about something in their chosen party.

But this actually will bring light to something I've been thinking about: that Democrats have lost most people to independent status than Republicans have. Note that independents tended to favor Kerry.

This means that Democrats need to have a strong message to bring these people back into the fold and get them to associate themselves with the party itself again, not just with the party's issues.

by cfr 2005-02-09 05:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Absolutely right: Hardly
I strongly disagree with you, and with Chris, and with Howard Dean, who holds the same position.

Open Primaries were instituted eighty years ago to reform corrupt State Governments, and they worked. We have a large body of good research from Sociology and Political Science Departments now, that shows just how effective the Open Primary mechanism has been. Far from eliminating it; we should implement open primaries in every State in the country.  

I have too much to say about this to post it all here -- I'm just going to claim that if Democrats want to reform State Party organizations in order to reach out to independents, then squashing Open Primaries is the very worst start we could possibly make.  

Howard Dean (and many Eastern Democrats) oppose Open Primaries because they don't understand them.  I suggest that you (and Chris, and Howard Dean) check into the history of Open Primaries in Far Western and the Northern Midwestern States before you take a stand like this.


by scribble 2005-02-09 06:54AM | 0 recs
Hardly Right
"Howard Dean (and many Eastern Democrats) oppose Open Primaries because they don't understand them."

I mistrust ANYONE who argues that an opposite opinion is the result of ignorance.  


Credibilty = 0

by David in Burbank 2005-02-09 11:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Hardly Right
Do you want to fight?  I don't.

I've heard Howard Dean discuss this, and he was frankly ignorant of how open primaries work. ... maybe my citing a personal experience like this constitutes "pulling rank" on you; I don't know.  

But then, maybe your quibbling about an opinion and then dismissing it constitutes being irrationally hard-headed -- perhaps impossible to reason with on this issue.  

In the meantime, Far West and Midwestern States have lots of very positive experience with Open Primaries, and we have lots of Scientific research that explains that positive experience.  In my opinion, Howard Dean is dead wrong in his opinion of open primaries, even though he is probably correct on most other issues.  

Please don't reply to me again. Ever.


by scribble 2005-02-09 09:01PM | 0 recs
My Opinion
Is that it is a terrible idea.  We alow indenpendents to vote in either primary and I for one like it and it seems popualar in the state Independent voters are growing at rate that far exceeds either the Democrats or the Republicans.
by THE MODERATE 2005-02-09 05:19AM | 0 recs
Primaries are supposed to be where...
..the party's voters select their party candidates.  When non-party members get to vote in those primaries the whole purpose of the primary is distorted.  So, I have always believed that only voters registered with a party should be allowed to vote in that party primary.  We need to build up the strength and identity of the Democratic party.  Allowing "independents", who in my experience are usually Republicans, ashamed to admit it, to vote in our primary is counter productive.
by Sacramentohop 2005-02-09 05:23AM | 0 recs
I concur
I think the parties should conduct their own elections without government help.
by Paul Goodman 2005-02-09 08:47AM | 0 recs
Re: I concur
That is what happens in South Carolina, at least for the Presidential Primary. The State does conduct the election, but the parties pay for it.

The Democratic Party did an amazing job in financing the Democratic Primary in 2004. Skeptics didn't think they'd be able to do it. (Not that it mattered: it was the only primary that SC native John Edwards won.) In 2000, when Al Gore's nomination was all but certain, SC Democrats had a caucus instead. Republicans, of course had a very famous (and nasty) Primary that year.

by wayward 2005-02-09 06:08PM | 0 recs
I agree
AND, who's to say you can't join more than one party, if you are so inclined .
by David in Burbank 2005-02-09 11:51AM | 0 recs
I always thought that the open primary
in Washington was a bad idea too for the same reasons, but I was outnumbered.  The open primary was canned (by a suit brought by the state Dems, Reps and Libs) then sort of resurrected with a top two system voted in through an initiative in November (which I voted against).
by WA37 2005-02-09 05:45AM | 0 recs
It's a New England thing
In Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, people don't seem to vote along party lines.  Here in Vermont (where voter registration does not include party affiliation) Bernie Sanders and our conservative Republican governor got about the same amount of votes.
by ohnofile 2005-02-09 06:05AM | 0 recs
Close the primaries
When I lived in Massachusetts (late 70s) they let independents vote in the primaries. Although a Democrat at heart, I had come from NY with a tradition of progressive Republicans that I could vote for from time to time, so to keep my options open I registered as an independent.  This allowed me, if necessary,  to vote for progressive, good government Republicans in primaries so you would have candidates to keep the Mass Democrats in line, to prevent power from corrupting.  I could have voted for good Dem candidates in the primaries but frequently they were shut out by the machine and not on the ballot.  When I moved to New Jersey (1990), you had to register with a party to vote in its primary, and I have been proudly registered as a Dem ever since.

Times are very different now.  The Republican Party of my youth and the fact that there were some Republicans I could respect are sadly gone.  We need to build the Dem party for the battle and we need all the help we can get from progressives of all stripes.  It is better now to have an insurgent attempt to move all of his or her party in the right direction, by appealing to those party members who feel similarly, than to try to win cross-over voters who won't be there for the long haul.  

I love NH and believe its primary is helpful in certain respects, but I think they should leave the primary vote to people who want to be part of the party for the long haul and not just drop in.

by Joe Scordato 2005-02-09 06:14AM | 0 recs
Local impact
Here in Iowa we call our primary "closed" but it really isn't; you can change any time including at the polls.  Obviously there's a national implication in this, but my concerns are parochial.

Our county is the most Democratic in the state; the last Republican to win a courthouse-level eletion was in `84.  The de facto local election is the primary and the factional lines are consisten: progressive, party-activist Democrats vs. conservative Democrats and their GOP allies.  Party switching is massive and cynical; one frequently hears the phrase "how soon can I switch back."

I've seen Republican party chairs, major donors, and even a couple that hosted teh GOP caucus in their HOUSE become "Democrats for a day."  It's a local joke.  (Fortunately we had a good year and the progressives won last June.)  They openly make the circular self-defeating argument: "well, everyone knows a Republican can't win HERE."

(Fairness: local Dems have done this too a couple times when there was a hot Republican STATEWIDE race but no local Dem contests.)

I don't have a problem with pure independents making an honest choice, but cynical intervention by an opposing party should be stopped.

by jdeeth 2005-02-09 06:25AM | 0 recs
I admit, I did that in Minnesota
I voted in the Republican primary last September.  There were no races on the Demcoratic side, so I voted for the weakest candidate for congress on the Rep side.
by Hughsterg 2005-02-09 07:46AM | 0 recs
Different here
In our local contests it's not a matter of Repubs voting for weak Dems - it's an attempt to nominate DINOs who then win general elections on straight ticket votes.
by jdeeth 2005-02-09 10:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Local impact
I do this in South Carolina. In SC, there is no party registration, you just ask for the ballot you want. If there is a run-off, you must vote for the same party you voted for in the primary, if you voted. Presidential primaries (1st in the South!) and state/local primaries are totally separate.

I vote in the Republican Primary for state/local offices because many candidates in my district have no General Election opposition. Also, there is a big difference between Republicans. Would you rather have a Lindsey Graham Republican or a Jim DeMint Republican (or worse - DeMint is a moderate in SC!) in the general election?

My state senate seat had three Republicans running: a neo-confederate, the darling of the religious right candidate, and a moderate, business oriented, former Democrat. Given these choices, and the fact that the Democratic candidate didn't even clear 40%, yes I will choose a Republican ballot in the primaries. In this state, it is the difference between a businessman and a true right-wingnut.

by wayward 2005-02-09 06:02PM | 0 recs
Here is a radical idea
I think anyone who wants to join a political party should pay a membership fee (Say $5) and only party members should be allowed to vote on party matters.
by Eli Rabett 2005-02-09 06:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Here is a radical idea
So, we should go back to the days of the poll tax?

I think this is all kind of silly.  I was a Democrat all my life.  I was driven away in the 90's with Clinton's practice of triangulation.  I was also deeply offended by his push of the NAFTA agreement.  I worked as a Senior Engineer at a huge multi-national.  I sat in the boardrooms and took part in the discussions about moving manufacturing out of the USA.  I participated in moving entire production facilities to Mexico.  It isn't pretty.

I lived in Ohio and now South Dakota.  Both states require party membership to vote in primaries.  So, what does this independent do?  He takes 5 minutes of his time to drop by the courthouse to register in the party primary that he wants to participate in.  Then after the election, he spends another 5 minutes changing his registration back to independent.  Big deal...  It's really a lot of skin off my back.

by Dave B 2005-02-09 06:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Here is a radical idea
POLL TAX! That's a horrible idea.
by Painter2004 2005-02-09 12:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Here is a radical idea
And Dave, yee old independent has no interest whatsoever in the party whose primary he lies his way into.  The poll tax bit is a red herring, but anyone who votes in a party election should have a demonstrated involvement with that party.
by Eli Rabett 2005-02-12 04:55PM | 0 recs
The parties should be independent
of the government. Its time to stop the two-party hustle.
by Paul Goodman 2005-02-09 08:48AM | 0 recs
Kathy Sullivan
I'm not a fan of hers.  From what I hear, she's not a fan of newbies running for office.
by kydem 2005-02-09 06:56AM | 0 recs
I do not support this.

Why is it necessary to use the power of the state to "encourage" people to join a political party?
What benifit does this law give the voter?

Dont we use state taxpayer money of all political persuasions to fund the running of primaries yet it is demanded that the interest of national parties to supersede the interest of the citizens of the state?

(I think of this also for the 1st in nation primary argument)

by PeterNH 2005-02-09 06:57AM | 0 recs
Gerrymandering + Closed Primaries =
A disenfranchised minority.

Because of the number of districts that have been gerrymandered to elect a candidate from a particular party, if you close the primary, you effectively close the election, too.  That isn't right.

I don't particularly like the idea of non-Democrats choosing the Democratic candidate, but I like the idea of having no say in the ultimate winner even less.

Either way, it's a fucked system; but one seems clearly less fucked than the other.  

You know, if New Hampshire is so independent, why not simply eliminate the primary?  Employ condorcet or approval voting in the general election instead, or switch to some form of full representation.

by Drew 2005-02-09 07:17AM | 0 recs
Closed primaries
The combination of gerrymandered districts and closed primaries contributes to increased partisanship, less public participation and a less democratic results overall. Early twentieth century progressives strongly favored non-partisan local elections, as well as such innovations as the recall, initiative, and referendum.

21st Century Progressives should continue to support neutral non-partisan apportionment in every state, open primaries and open elections, auditable and fair elections where everyone can vote as part of an overall reform agenda.

by Aeolus 2005-02-09 07:54AM | 0 recs
Open the ballot to all who would run
End the two-party hustle.
by Paul Goodman 2005-02-09 08:49AM | 0 recs
I'd be more inclined to agree
with this idea if we had a genuine party system in this country, but we have a duopoly, and forcing people to pick Team Red or Team Blue to participate in the primary process only helps to entrench the duopoly.

Now, if one of the major parties had a plank in its platform about moving toward proportional representation, I just might sign up with them. But I'm not about to do it just so that I can pick between Treebeard and Frodo again.

As long as these two parties constitute our government, the primaries should remain open. If they release their stranglehold on public discourse, maybe we can start treating them like private institutions.

by catastrophile 2005-02-09 09:12AM | 0 recs
Completely Open or Closed
Shouldn't open primaires, then, include everyone?  Why not let democrats vote for the republican candidate and vise versa - we would certainly get more moderate candiates from both parties.  

Partially open primaires, however, don't seem much different then closed primaries, really.  

Or completely closed primaires OUTSIDE the governemnt-- then, if the party so choses, it can let people join in all sorts of different capacities and even be a memeber of a different party.  That joining thing and how they pick their candidate all become part of the reason to join a particular party (Republicans, for instance, could decide to just let the richest 1% vote for the candidate, say for President, and that person would then at least get the fiancial backing s/he would need to win--someone ight join that party just becasue they don't want to choses, but they like winning!)  

And completely separate from that, yes, proportional voting in the presidential election - or at least the proportional assignment of electors from the states.  Of course that might have given GW a bigger electoral win in 2000 and 2004.

by David in Burbank 2005-02-09 12:26PM | 0 recs
I'd be for that,
letting everybody vote in every primary -- but, as you can probably tell, I think the problem is much bigger than party primaries. Fundamentally, I'm for opening up the system so that we have a multitude of parties, and the Dem and Reep parties are both against that. I'm wary of ever throwing my full support behind the Dem party as long as they're committed to making sure I have no other viable options. I never thought I'd vote for a Dem, but I voted for Kerry with a clean conscience, because of his BCCI investigation. (If only the media, or Kerry, had paid the least bit of attention to the difference between Kerry and Bush when it came to going after terrorists before 9/11 . . .)

"Republicans, for instance, could decide to just let the richest 1% vote for the candidate, say for President, and that person would then at least get the fiancial backing s/he would need to win"

In other words, they could keep their current system, and just shed the pretense of democracy? ;)

by catastrophile 2005-02-09 01:13PM | 0 recs
"In other words, they could keep their current system, and just shed the pretense of democracy? ;) "

But if they shed the pretense, who would join their party (besides the 1%)?

by David in Burbank 2005-02-09 01:24PM | 0 recs
So long as the political system in this country remains a two-party system, you need to provide a way for people whose views are not adequately expressed in either of the two parties to voice their opinion.
by emptywheel 2005-02-09 09:18AM | 0 recs
Terrible Idea
I was an independent until recently.  I now call myself a Democrat, but I have not registered that way.

Independents have to choose between the two candidates given to them by the Republicans and Democrats.  They should be allowed to have input on who those two candidates are.

I respect the political process, and I would never just vote for the weakest candidate in the party I dislike.  If you can't trust others to behave in the same way, then what does that say for your faith in democracy itself?

I live in rural north Georgia.  I know that all of my elected leaders will be Republicans.  I should at least get some say in what kind of Republicans they will be.

This is the kind of bipartisan collusion to manipulate the system that makes people independents in the first place!

by dysfunctionalgadfly 2005-02-09 10:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Terrible Idea
rural north Georgia - where Zell really IS considered liberal!
by wayward 2005-02-09 06:11PM | 0 recs
Dont' Close the Primaries
People do not register independent to be chic.  More and more people are disenchanted by the two party system's ability to represent them and becoming independents.  Disengaging voters from the process is not the way to increase democracy in this country.  Nor is it the way for democrats to win elections.  Shut us out of the primaries and we may very well not be there for the dems on election day.  
by independent voter 2005-02-09 10:43AM | 0 recs
The primaries shouldn't even be run by the GOVT
I think.

I think the primaries shoud be run and paid for by the parties - not the States.  The parites aren't part of our government or any constitutions that I know of.  The purpose of the primary is for the party to pick the best candidate to run against the other parties candidate.  How they pick that candiate should be up to the party (maybe the state party for state jobs...)  Sure, if you want to ask everyone their opinion you can have an election - and you can even choose to ask independants if you want - or even the opposition party.

Sorry, I just never got why the Democratic and Republican primiares were paid for by the STATE - or why the STATE could control how the primaries operated.  They ARE clubs and they should have their own (internal) elections run however they want.  And it shouldn't be confused with actually voting to fill a political position.

Well, that's my opinion, anyway.

by David in Burbank 2005-02-09 11:37AM | 0 recs
Should and shouldn't
aren't what we've got. Sure, party primaries should be the business of party members, and parties should be distinct from the government, but that's not the system we have. We have a system where two parties make all the decisions, and everybody else can go hang or run for school board, and the one thing that the two parties can always agree on is keeping all the other parties shut out of the system. In that context, what should be takes a back seat to what is.

When the parties become what they should be, we can consider making the primaries what they should be. But so long as the duopoly is our de facto government, we're better off letting everybody take part in the process.

by catastrophile 2005-02-09 11:59AM | 0 recs
Shun independents at your peril, Democrats!
These comments demonstrate why the Democratic party is increasingly living in the past.  Closing the primaries would help Karl Rove accomplish his goal of turning the Democratic party into a minority party of labor unions, tree-huggers and peacenicks.  Democrats have only won recently when its candidates have garned wide support across the spectrum in the primaries, such as Clinton and Carter did.  Would these candidates have won in a closed NH primary?  I think not.  The propensity of liberal activits to take the attitude that independents are to be ignored is very dangerous, unless y'all like being in the minority.  Then you can become the British Labour party of the 1980's or the British Conservatives of today.
by ctd72 2005-02-09 11:58AM | 0 recs
I know this is an UnDemocratic idea, but
It's a primary not a general election so make indepedents votes in primarys count 1/2 of a party members.
by Painter2004 2005-02-09 12:31PM | 0 recs
independent voting
Encouraging independents to vote in primaries takes the decision making authority out of the hands of a minority, helps build a base for the general election, and identifies voters who  lean toward your party.  
by nascardem 2005-02-10 08:11AM | 0 recs
Entrenched two party system
I think we need open primaries because we are saddled with a system that discourages third parties very strongly. I personally identify with the democratic party  but I feel strongly against teacher unions and am pro charter schools. I believe strongly in free trade, but at the same time feel government needs to make sure corporations don't abuse their power by encouraging transparency of information and increased shareholder rights.

So we should be allowed to have a chance at influencing both parties. While I have never voted Republican, I would like to have that option open. If McCain(the older version, not the one who kisses Bush's ass) ran against Hillary in 2000, I would have voted for McCain and I would have liked to have selected McCain in the Republican primary and someone like a Dean type in the Democratic party who would satisfy different areas of my interest.

by Pravin 2005-02-10 11:48AM | 0 recs
Why people join parties
The only reason that average people would have for joining a party is to vote in the primaries.  I don't think that someone not in the party should bew able to vote for the nominee. Nobody is stopping that person from voting in the General Election, but they shouldn't be allowed to vote in primaries.  Many Independents are aligned with one of the parties, so, using 2004 as an example, there was no GOP primary, so a conservative Independent could have voted for a far- left candidate like Sharpton who had no chance of winning a General Election to weaken the party.
by Max Friedman 2005-03-07 12:22PM | 0 recs


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