Open Primaries are a Good Idea By Robert Scott

Wasn’t it an interesting Republican Presidential Primary last Saturday? The results were in line with most predictions, with Donald Trump thumping the rest of the field. Somewhat surprising was that Senator Ted Cruz finished no higher than third place, albeit very close to fellow Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio. Although he finished second in Edgefield County, despite a large number of evangelical Pastors’ endorsements Sen. Cruz did not carry a single county in our state.

People tend to view politics through a lens colored by discussions with friends, and friends who discuss politics with one another very often have similar views – or at least, they talk that way to their friends, before casting their secret ballots. That is probably why people who say, “Everybody I know supports my favorite candidate” are then surprised as well as disappointed when some other guy (or gal) wins. After primaries in “Open Primary” states like South Carolina it is often argued on talk radio and on social media that the other party must have infiltrated “our” Primary and caused the results to be skewed from the candidate that all True Republicans (or True Democrats) supported. I remember hearing that after Sen. Lindsey Graham defeated a raft of more conservative challengers in the 2014 Primary, and you can hear it now from disappointed Ted Cruz supporters.

There are strong reasons why many states have opted for Open Primaries. First among them is this: in order to have a Primary in which only, say, Republicans are allowed to vote, there must first be some registration process in which every voter has to choose what party she or he belongs to. But many voters consider themselves to be Independents, people who vote for the person and not for the party. Such voters are the true swing voters. They often act as a moderating influence, having decided to be Independent because they don’t approve of either party’s performance in recent years. Often the Independent voter is the one who sees one party as too doctrinaire and the other too hard to nail down; one party as too prone to drag us into overseas wars and the other not strong enough on defense; one party as not caring about the deserving poor and the other too willing to increase entitlements.

And independents need to be able to express their preferences in primaries as well as general elections, to provide candidates an incentive to seek middle ground rather than catering to the hardest line party faithful. Primary elections often show us that is just what happens. Inevitably, Republicans then accuse Democrats of skewing “their primary” away from the most conservative candidates, and Democrats likewise accuse Republicans of skewing Primaries away from the most liberal.

Of course, absent required party registration, you can’t really tell which party’s faithful actually voted in one party’s primary. All things considered, that is a good thing. To paraphrase Sen. Barry Goldwater, extremism in defense of liberty loses elections every time. Independents voting in party primaries helps to prevent that.

If you’re an Independent and didn’t vote last Saturday in the Republican Primary, you might consider voting this Saturday in the Democratic one – for your favorite candidate, or against your least favorite. Regardless of which party you feel closest to, voting in whichever primary election you choose is your right, and it helps both parties to stay nearer the middle of the road.


This writing represents the views and opinions of the author and not necessarily of the Advertiser.


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