Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Primary Game

With primary season coming to an end, I find myself wondering about our primary system. Should we allow non-party people to participate? Should we allow caucuses or anything less than a full primary? What has particularly raised these issues is what is going on in California, where ballot initiative Proposition 14 is looking to open California’s primaries and, basically, combine them.

Proposition 14, which currently has 60% support, would amend the California state constitution to make primaries open and non-partisan. The ostensible idea behind this is to let unaffiliated voters have a say in the selection of candidates. The thinking is that this would lead to more moderate candidates. But would it really?

Under the new system, everyone regardless of party, would receive the same ballot with the same list of candidates. The top two vote-getters would then face off in the general election. Thus, theoretically, Pelosi would face a second Democrat in November. Similarly, two Republicans could square off against each other in Orange County. And this would likely happen a lot. . . but there's a twist. For while a study by the Centre for Government Studies found that more than 1/3 of the races for the state legislature or Congress could have produced runoffs between members of the same party if this system had been in place over the past few elections, almost all of these would have happened in overwhelmingly Democratic districts in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

So I guess the question becomes, could the few Republicans in these districts, combined with the few independents and the few Democrats who would never vote for a Republican but might vote for a moderate Democrat, produce enough votes to toss out someone like a Pelosi in favor of a moderate Democrat? I must admit that I like the idea of tossing out Pelosi, even if it’s with another Democrat, but I don’t think this will work.

Democrats have shown time and again that they are much more susceptible to groupthink than Republicans, so I see this as a much greater danger for the Republicans. Indeed, this sounds like an easy way to game the system by running a large number of Republicans and keeping the number of Democratic candidates small, so that you end up spreading the Republican vote and routinely getting two Democrats. In fact, I'm sure there are dozens of RINOs salivating at the chance to hurt their own party.

Moreover, Washington State ran this kind of system for 70 years until 2003, and they continued to produce reliably liberal Democrats. And I find it interesting that Democrats support this plan in liberal states, but don’t even mention it in deeply conservative states. That’s rather telling in and of itself. What this sounds like to me is nothing more than a gimmick with the potential for freezing out the less popular party, which in California happens to be the Republicans. And that’s not the only reason I oppose it.

I also oppose this measure because political parties are private organizations that should have the right under the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of association, to choose who their nominees are and to decide who gets to vote to make that decision. State governments should not be allowed to tell parties that they must let non-party members choose party candidates.

Further, I am troubled by adding more gamesmanship to our electoral system. Politics is dirty enough already without adding more opportunities to game the system. I don’t think it helps the reputation of our democracy when we use a caucus system that results in candidates claiming that the other candidate shipped voters in to rig the system, when we use open primaries that let one party manipulate the selection process of the other party, and when we don’t require voters to produce identification and we don’t pursue people who commit election fraud or intimidation. I certainly don’t think it will help our reputation when 1/3 of the races in California suddenly feature only Democratic candidates.

This is a bad idea.

25 comments:

JG said...

They used to do that in Oklahoma, until people got wise back 30-some-odd years ago and changed it. Open primaries just don't make sense. All you have to do is look at the 2008 primaries and the way the Democrat open primaries got screwed around the country, thanks to Rush Limbaugh.

USArtguy said...

I think, as far as primaries go, semi-closed or semi-opened elections are probably best. In a closed primary only registered party members can vote for their party's candidates which, by definition, can't include independents. A semi-closed system allows that but you have to trust the voter is truthfully registered as what they claim they are. The semi-open also allows independents but a voter has to publicly declare their affiliation and receive a ballot for that party. Not a real big deal, but in my own precinct the registered Dems outnumber Republicans 10-1. So standing in line with nine of your neighbors who are Democrats while declaring yourself a Republican might be a little intimidating.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I agree. I think it's a bad idea to let people from the other party manipulate the primary process. And I think what Rush did is a perfect example.

I thought it was funny and I liked watching the Democrats squirm -- especially since they've done it to use several times in the past, but how well does it reflect on America that one side can choose a candidate early and then start messing with the other side? Not only does this seem unAmerican to let people who hate your side get to play around with your candidates, but it also costs a lot of money to fight primaries. So the longer the other side can keep your side fighting, the more they are draining your resources.

I also think something like this is all but guaranteed to turn states that heavily lean one way or the other into one-party states, like some South American banana republic. . . of course, California is basically already there any ways. :-(

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, I think there is no reason that we shouldn't have closed primaries unless the parties themselves choose to open them. People say, "what about the independents?" Well, go join a party.

In a place like you are talking about, anything less than a closed primary allows too much manipulation. If you had a rising star in the Republican ranks, it wouldn't take much (10.1%) of Democrats choosing to do their best to keep them down to keep them from ever getting on the ballot.

And I think the Democrats get this. That's why they keep advocating things like this in states where the numbers favor them, but not in states where they are outnumbered.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

This notion of open primaries has always bothered me. Like you said, if you want to vote in a primary, join that party. It's a no brainer. No one is being disenfranchised. Anyone is allowed to join any party he or she wishes. I'm so sick of the *precious* independents whining about this issue, as if they are above the rest of us for not joining a party and thus not compromising whatever lofty stances they think they have.

Would it make any sense to allow people from Pennsylvania to vote in New York's elections? I'd personally like to have a say in whether Chuck Schumer gets elected, but I can't because I don't live there. Tough luck for me. But I am perfectly free to move to New York, though, so that I can have a say. Same goes for primaries. Either join a party or stop whining.

I think this issue is a perfect example of your last article about what's wrong with the right. Those who understand why political parties exist understand why this is such a bad idea. But to someone who doesn't pay attention, they can easily be fooled by the assertion, "by being prohibited from voting for any candidate you choose in a primary, you are being disenfranchised." It's a completely emotional argument. Without someone there to "teach" you why it's a bad argument, you will easily buy into it. The left makes an easy-to-understand emotional argument for it, and the right is unable to make an easy-to-understand logical argument against it. Maybe that logical argument would be to compare it to voting for someone in another state. Wouldn't most people think that was really a bad and stupid idea? Could you imagine someone arguing that all congressional and senatorial elections should be nationalized?

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I should probably get more exercised by this, but California changes its voting system as often as most people change their clothes. We've been through this before, it will last one election cycle (assuming it even passes) and then we'll go back to doing things the old way. California has been experimenting with "non-partisan" elections since the Progressive Era. As recently as the late 50s, candidates could "cross file" in general elections in both parties. Earl Warren won his first election as governor as the nominee of both parties. It never comes out well, and always ends up reverting to the traditional partisan primary system. The doctrine of unintended consequences always ends up defeating these chimerical schemes.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, Excellent points. I think the analogy between claiming to be disenfranchised because you've chosen not to belong to a party and being disenfranchised because you've chosen not to live in New York is a perfect one. In both instances, you are the one who has disenfranchised yourself. And to whine about not being able to vote is disingenuous.

I also agree with your tie in to my last article. This is the sort of thing that conservatives should be fighting the moment it gets mentioned and they need to learn to make it clear why this is a bad idea. And in terms of making it clear, that means abandoning the philosophical argument and learning to put these things into common sense ways that people will understand.

For example, if I were a conservative politician out there, I would probably start by calling it the "elimination of competition initiative" or "the banana Republic Act." I would probably add how it would wipe out third parties, and then go with the theme that this is "how incumbents are looking to protect their seats by hand-picking their general election opponents." Finally, I'd probably frame this as an issue of "freedom of choice" in that the incumbents will be giving themselves the power to take away the choice of the minority party about who they want to run.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Pitts, I've heard something about Pittsburgh politicians running as the candidate for both parties, so that they don't face any competition in the general election. Have you heard anything about that?

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I don't expect it to work out well. But I do see this as the kind of dangerous attempt to consolidate power by the Democrats that needs to be stopped before they try to spread it to other states.

Sadly, I understand that some Republicans have climbed on board with this thing and are even promoting it. Ug.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

Andrew, re Pittsburgh politicians getting both party nominations, you are exactly right. Our mayor, Luke "Boy Blunder" Ravenstahl did that in the last election to remove his competition. Can't Democrats win on their own merits? Hmmmm. You can read about it here.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks for the link Pitts. I'd heard something about this, but hadn't looked into it myself.

I think it's obscene that a person become the nominee for both parties. That truly is banana republic territory. In fact, even the communists at their election-manipulating best never tried that.

CrispyRice said...

I'm a huge fan of closed primaries AND I think you shouldn't be able to "join" the party that morning, either. Ugh. It's crazy to allow people from the other side to choose your candidate.

It's also funny how the dems try to change laws in places where they think it will help them, but remain silent elsewhere. I remember them trying to change the "winner-take-all" status of the electoral colleges in SOME of the states.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, You're absolutely right. The Democrats are busy trying to manipulate the election system in this country to make it more favorable to them -- from gerrymandering, to court challenges, to using "estimates" to bump up census numbers, to trying things like this. And you're right, the big thing they were trying in several Republican leaning states during the last election cycle was to divide up the Electoral College votes by percentage. And it's funny isn't it, how they didn't want to do that in places like California. . . where it would have hurt them. But they were more than happy to do it states they couldn't win.

Never trust anything proposed by the Democrats.

CrispyRice said...

"Never trust anything proposed by the Democrats."

I think that about sums it up, Andrew!

MegaTroll said...

I agree that this is yet another attempt to warp the electoral system to help the Democrats. If the Democrats are going to start playing these games, then Republicans need to as well.

I remember what CrispyRice is talking about. We should be pushing to get that on the ballot in every liberal state we can find.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Crispy, I think that's puts the issue pretty clearly into perspective, doesn't it? LOL!

Besides, I like having simple rules. ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Mega, I think you're right. I have long been a proponent of fighting fire with fire. If the liberals want to play these games, then we should do the same and we should up the ante. We control more states, so we can close out more of their seats than they close out ours.

Tennessee Jed said...

I firmly believe the party who is having the primary should control who gets in. Personally, I believe you should be a registered party member for a minimum of 6 months prior to the election to participate.

Unlike an actual election, a primary is about that party choosing their candidate. I have always believed voting for your party's candidate is a priviledge afforded to party members alone.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Well said. I agree entirely and I would love to see a push by Republicans to close all of their primaries as you suggest.

If the Democrats want to open their primaries, they can be my guest. But the Republicans need to take control over their own party again.

Ed said...

Nice article as always. Why am I not surprised that the Donkeycrats are trying this?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Probably because this is standard operating procedure for Democrats -- ignore principle and decency to gain whatever advantage you can get.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't this all be unconstitutional? It doesn't seem right to be able to tell somebody else who they can run.

StanH said...

If I were king of the RNC I would close primaries immediately. It allows for liberal mischief.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Well said. Short, sweet and to the point. And I would do the same!

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I'm not sure I understand why state governments have this power either. Under the First Amendment, you have the right of free assembly. That means the right to decide who you want to be in a party with and who you don't, and the right to set your own rules -- so long as they don't violate other laws.

So I'm not sure where this is coming from. Unless this is a question of who pays for the costs of the primaries.

In any event, it bothers me that states are telling the parties how they need to set their rules.

Post a Comment