Why I’m Against Open Primaries

Open PrimariesOne thing that has shown up a lot on the Bernie Sanders side of the Democratic primary is the idea that independents should be able to vote in party primaries. Indeed, this is already the case in 20 states. I think this is totally wrong. What’s more, I think those in favor of it have forgotten what political parties have traditionally been. In the not so distant past, political party elites pretty much decided who was going to be their candidates. Since then, things have gotten much more democratic. And that’s a good thing. But open primaries? I think it would be better to go back to the elites deciding.

I don’t like our two party system. If we had a parliamentary system with multiple parties, I most definitely wouldn’t be a Democrat. But we do have the system that we have. Let’s change the system! I’m all for that. But I’m not for people who can’t even be willing to take a stand as to their party preference deciding which candidate either party decides to nominate. Democrats should get to nominate the Democratic nominee and Republicans should get to nominate the Republican nominee. Otherwise, what is the primary even for?! Why not just go straight to the general election?

I’m not sure what the Sanders campaign is complaining about. According to Ballotpedia, Clinton has won 58% of the open primaries and 61% of the closed primaries.

There are lots of things we could change about the primary system. I’d personally like to see fewer super delegates in the Democratic Party. But it doesn’t much matter. I fully believe that if Bernie Sanders had three million more votes than Hillary Clinton, there would be a mad rush of super delegates to Sanders. And look at the Republican Party! It seems that every four years they change their rules to stop what happened last time from happening again. And they succeed! Something even worse happens, instead!

Open Primaries Are Like Non-Primaries

I’ll be honest: I don’t understand this issue at all. Being a member of a political party is no more difficult than registering to vote. (I think having to register to vote in general elections is a big problem, but few people are complaining about it.) Allowing independents to vote in partisan primaries is like letting Canadians vote in US elections. It really isn’t any business of independents who the Democrats and Republicans nominate.

Now I’ll admit: I’m not keep on independents. To me, they are just a bunch of people with a clear partisan ax to grind who want the world to applaud them for their “independence” and lack of partisanship. Well, if that’s what they want, there ought to be some price to pay. And the bare minimum that the price should be is that they don’t get a say in how the political parties run their business. They are, after all, “independent.” Why do they even care who the parties nominate? They are above all that! And in the end, there will be a full slate of candidates to vote from parties more explicitly fascist than the Republicans to actual socialists.

What’s more, I’m not sure what the Sanders campaign is complaining about. According to Ballotpedia, Clinton has won 58% of the open primaries and 61% of the closed primaries. Are we really supposed to believe that this election would be different if there had been nothing but open primaries? I’m a very disgruntled Democrat. But I am a Democrat. And I don’t see why people who can’t even be bothered to pick a party should get a say in who my party nominates.


Note that this does not apply to candidates. The fact that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat doesn’t matter in the least as long as members of the Democratic Party want to nominate him.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

22 thoughts on “Why I’m Against Open Primaries

  1. I’m not sure what the Sanders campaign is complaining about.

    Um, that she is winning? They just can’t actually say that.

    I agree with you on the independents though-outside of a few people who have job related concerns of being fired for party affiliation, most Indies are special snowflakes who want to be coddled by both sides to make them feel better and above such petty partisan nonsense.

    • Most independents that I know are men and have this idea that they are such rugged individualists that no party can contain them. That means that most independents I know vote exclusively Republican. I hate the pretense. No one — no one — is completely happy with their political party. Join the one you can most live with! What I most hate are people who aren’t Democrats because they are too liberal for the the party, or people who aren’t Republicans because they are too conservative for the party. That doesn’t make you independent; that makes you on the far edge of your party. Man up people!

      As for the Sanders campaign, it does seem to be a tactical belief. I’m just not interested. And I want Sanders to be talking about economic issues. I’m not very interested that the two major political parties in the US act like, well, political parties. If Sanders were 3 million votes ahead and losing, then sure. And I assume that most Sanders supporters are like me; and I feel very comfortable losing; it’s what I’m used it; I feel comfortable being in the opposition. And I’d much rather be in the opposition against President Clinton than President Trump. But now I’m getting off into #BernieOrBust territory, so I’ll stop.

      • The indies in my neck of the woods are “I am so special. I am so above all of the partisan people who join, ugh, a political party.”

        Not “I am so individual.”

        Also, you are not anywhere close to #bernieorbust. I interact with them often and they are mostly a bunch of over the top slactivists and/or incredibly misogynistic. (My one friend who is still #bernieorbust is the latter. He won’t admit he is sexist though even when I and many other women have shown him the evidence of his own words.)

        • I know I’m nowhere near #BernieOrBust. But neither are any of the Sanders supporters I know. I just think it is that the #BernieOrBust folks are loud. In the end, I think it will be like #NeverTrump: lots of noise but not any real action. That’s not to say that there won’t be dead-enders in both movements. But mostly: nothing.

          • They are bitter. I was reading up on the Clinton camp’s reaction to the Florida and Michigan decision in 2008 while discussing it on Twitter and if anyone had a reason to be livid over the DNC deciding the way they did it was her. She was 96 delegates down with more popular vote without the DNC’s Rules committee cutting the two states in half. She wasn’t angry though (well not publicly anyway) although her peeps were just as rude as the Sanders people in Nevada a few weeks ago.

            Had she less than a hundred and the popular vote, she had a very good case. heck she had one with the 126 split. But did she drive it to the convention and try to pick up the Edwards delegates? No. She didn’t. Because she understood the rules and she told her people the rules were the rules.

            • You seem to be implying that Sanders is going to drive it to the convention. That’s what I’m complaining about. There’ll be plenty of time to slam Sanders if he does that.

              • I am saying it because he keeps claiming he will (although as I said there are reports of him claiming something completely opposite to the Democratic leadership behind closed doors.) I am not giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming this is post lost posturing. I am taking his statements at face value.

  2. It’s something you see all the time among sports fans. If “bad calls” hurt their team, it’s an outrage. If their team benefitted from bad calls, few care. Or as Trump put it in a good “Last Week” piece on primary anomalies, the system was rigged when he lost, but now that he’s the winner, he won’t complain.

    • Yeah. I’ve noticed that people who are new to sports or who watch it little tend to be the ones who get most upset about bad calls. I’ve found more experienced watchers are better about this. And I’m talking about people who I do not consider all that mature. But in a single game of baseball, you might see a dozen bad calls (or ones you think are bad). So it is easier to gain the experience and see that sometimes the system helps you and sometimes it doesn’t. One thing we must remember about Sanders supporters is that they are generally younger. And I think that’s fantastic. I also think they should be cut a bit more slack because they are young.

  3. I also don’t understand the case for open primaries. If you can’t muster enough enthusiasm to register for one party or the other, why on Earth should anyone listen to your opinion about which candidates they should run?

    In a larger sense, I also am ambivalent about allowing voters to register at the polls _on voting day_. I most definitely do NOT want to place barriers to voting – but at the same time, you should actually have to care a little bit. I’m well aware that things are more difficult in various other states, but at least in California it almost requires effort NOT to be registered. You can register at the DMV (it’s practically automatic when you get or renew your license), you can register at the post office, you can hardly walk out of a supermarket without being hounded by a guy collecting signatures for a ballot measure – and since you have to be a registered voter to sign one of those, the same guy will happily collect and send in your registration. (Now, I personally feel pretty creeped out by that last one. But it’s an option, and a nearly inescapable one.)

    In California, at least, if voting day rolls around and you’re still not registered, I don’t see why I should listen to your political opinion on _anything_. Make at least a token effort, and I’m all ears.

    Edit: One argument against registering that I’ve sometimes heard is that “that’s how they get you for jury duty.” Two things: first, “they” have plenty of other methods, and I’ve known many unregistered people to get called up. Second, if you are so hot to avoid doing one of your civic duties, why should we care about your other one?

    • One thing about same-day registration is it benefits poor people, who are more likely to have shifting residences. I don’t know if it works the same way in all states, but here you have a specific polling place based on your address. A decade ago I moved two blocks and my polling place changed. But I was able to show up at the new polling place on election day with a utility bill and vote in a few minutes.

      • In California we have fixed polling places as well, but that has nothing to do with same-day registration. My registration doesn’t suddenly become invalid because my address changed; just as you did, one can show up at the new polling place (or the old one, come to that) and vote.
        I _can_ see an argument that it might disenfranchise the homeless, and I don’t want to do that. Again, though, opportunities to register (even for people with no fixed address) are practically ubiquitous here. My issue with same-day registration is that it enables people who have literally spent no time at all thinking about the issues to vote based on an ad they heard just a few minutes ago. That may be democratic, but it’s unlikely to be wise.

        (And yes – I am aware that mere time spent considering an opinion is no guarantee of its wisdom. But it’s a start.)

        Edit: I was under the impression this already existed in California; since it doesn’t, I’m glad to see it moving forward:

        • Yeah, uninformed voters (or misinformed voters) are a pain. My personal feeling though is that we should do what we can to make voting as easy as possible for everyone, misinformed or not. In the situation I described, I was able to walk a few more blocks, but someone who moved all the way across town to stay with relatives might not have that option.

          What I like best is the Oregon vote-by-mail system. Because most people who move still have ways of picking up their mail or getting it forwarded. Although it does leave out the homeless as you mention (who aren’t an insignificant population in Oregon!)

          And I doubt many people at all who register same-day haven’t thought about politics; what they maybe haven’t thought about much is the importance of voting. (If they’ve truly never thought much about politics before, why bother with voting at all?)

          And sometimes that decision can be changed (the decision to bother to vote) by last-minute appeals. Say, if you always assumed your vote was meaningless, but someone convinced you of how important local elections were. Or if you have physical obstacles to voting and someone offers to assist you, that sort of thing.

          But I do get where you’re coming from.

        • What are you talking about Marc? Here in California, each precinct has a list of voters in that area. If I moved to Southern California today, I could not vote there. I would have to come back here and vote, as far as I know.

          But I think you are taking a very elitist stance about voting. Most people don’t have the time to obsess about politics for months. And those who do are more likely to be obsessing over really bad information.

    • Well, you haven’t renewed your driver’s license in a while. I’m pretty sure you are now automatically registered to vote unless you opt out her in California. So things are even easier than you think. But I’m against the whole idea of registration. We all have social security numbers. Isn’t that good enough? I would hate for our democracy to be limited to nuts like us who think about this stuff all the time. My experience is that people take voting seriously, even if they don’t much think about it until a day or two before the election. But voting pamphlets are awesome!

      But I do think people ought to have to sign up to be in a political party. And each party can decide how they want to do that.

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