Why Open Primaries Are A Really Bad Idea

Posted by | June 9, 2010 19:31 | Filed under: Top Stories

By James Frye

Pundits and commentators were “stunned” that South Carolina’s Democrats nominated Alvin Greene to run against Senator Jim DeMint in November, a man who never raised a penny for his campaign or even campaigned at all in Tuesday’s state primary.  Seemingly, they passed on a former judge and four-term state legislator for the unemployed Greene.

Now it appears that the South Carolina Democratic Party is having buyer’s regret:

The head of the South Carolina Democratic Party has asked Alvin Greene, the party’s new nominee to challenge Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in November, to withdraw from the race following revelations that Greene is facing a felony charge for allegedly showing obscene material to a University of South Carolina student. From party chair Carol Fowler’s statement:

“Today I spoke with Alvin Greene, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the US Senate, and asked him to withdraw from the race. I did not do this lightly, as I believe strongly that the Democratic voters of this state have the right to select our nominee. But this new information about Mr. Greene has would certainly have affected the decisions of many of those voters,” said Fowler.

When asked about the charge by the Associated Press, Greene declined comment and hung up on a reporter.

How could Democrats do this to themselves?  Well, don’t blame Democratic voters in SC  for this — blame their primary system that allowed this to happen.

First, some definitions of terms:  States who hold party primaries do so under basically two types of methods.  Most states hold closed primaries which means that only voters who are registered in a political party may vote on selecting their party’s candidates for November.  Others have open primaries which can vary from state to state but basically allows anyone in any party or none to vote to select the general election candidate of any party.  The open primary system is a leftover from the bad old days of the Solid Dixie–er–Democratic South where, at the time, the Republicans had so small a chance of being elected to anything that the primary was essentially the November election.

What the open primary does now is offer an open invitation to mischief.  Remember “Operation Chaos” during the 2008 primaries where right wing radio talkers were calling for Republican voters to switch over to vote for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama so the Democratic primaries would be extended and hurt the Dem nominee?   That was meant for open primary states mainly — for that to work in closed primary states those Republicans would have had to re-register to vote to change their party affiliation for the primary then register again to change back afterward.

The open primary is also an invitation for one party to see to it that the weakest possible candidate of the other party wins to ensure that their real candidate has a better chance in the general election. This appears to have been what happened in the case of Mr. Greene’s Democratic nomination ‘victory’ in South Carolina.  Sneaky?  Yes, but totally legal and the SC Democrats would have done the same to the Republicans if they could.

The arguments for open primaries tend to go for the “it allows more voters to participate” line.  That’s fine for November when everybody can vote for anybody.  Primaries are (or should be) an internal function of the political parties.  No one outside of nonpartisan offices are elected to anything on primary day:  this is the chance for party members to decide who they think would be the best candidate for their party for the general election.  If you want to participate, register to vote with a party affiliation.  Doing that doesn’t mean that you have to vote for the candidates of the party exclusively and forever, it just allows you to help pick their candidates.

We were offered the chance to change over to an open, “top two” primary system here in Oregon and it was defeated.   Washington state had an open primary system for years and just recently switched to a closed system.

California wasn’t so wise in yesterday’s primary — they passed a state initiative that switched them from closed to open.  California has a reputation as a liberal state with some of the most extreme conservatives representing the state in the House.  As Thom Hartman pointed out today, now that the far right can affect who the Democrats run in November there it’ll more than likely mean that progressives will no longer be elected from there.

I think they’ll come to regret that decision because it’ll only be a matter of time before they get their own Alvin Greene.

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Copyright 2010 Liberaland
By: James Frye

Long time progressive activist in the Pacific Northwest and self-studying student of politics

One response to Why Open Primaries Are A Really Bad Idea

  1. McHitler (formerly Nuke90210) May 3rd, 2016 at 13:30

    Friend…..oh boy friend. You seem to miss the issue here. What you’re arguing against isn’t open primaries. You’re arguing against the ability for voters to vote for more than one candidate at a time. Allowing someone to vote for their candidate and then vote for the other party’s candidate is awful, yes, but is not inherent of open primaries. One can have an open primary and only allow each voter to have one vote. That way, should one group of people try to vote for another group’s least-likable candidate, they harm their own ability to elect who they want elected. This keeps voters from using their vote as a counter-vote, so to speak.

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