Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Closed primary elections are not supposed to be democratic

I'm old enough to remember how we used to laugh at the Russians. Their communist economy led to long lines of people waiting for really basic stuff. You know, like toilet paper, tomatoes and gas. They were inept and corrupt, but we were supposed to be better than that.

I guess after watching the primaries in New York and Arizona - and a few other places, I'm not laughing at the Russians of lore anymore. If you want to buy something in America, there are no lines to buy them. But if you want to vote in a primary election, plan on taking the day off. Heck, plan on camping overnight in line to exercise your glorious right to nomination.

I'm sure that the world is laughing at us right about now. They see the long lines, the confusing voter information sources, the sudden changes in schedule, and the unscheduled polling place cuts and closures. They must be puzzled by the closed primary systems, the fights over voter registration and the irresponsibility of some election officials. Can we truly call America a democracy anymore?

Not if you listen to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She says that if it were up to her, independents would not be allowed to vote in party primaries. I know, that's about as smug as an election official can be - a public election official for a private political party. Oh, did you say the party is private? Where is the bouncer? I didn't see him at the door. Here is the quote (I've tried to find the video, but it's not that easy to find):
"I believe that the party's nominee should be chosen — this is Debbie Wasserman Schultz's opinion — that the party's nominee should be chosen by members of the party," the DNC chief said in an interview with "MSNBC Live" Monday.
This is from the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, the same committee that has been doing just about everything in their power to make it easier for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination for the Democratic party as candidate for president. This is the same woman who says that superdelegates are in place to ensure that elitists are still relevant in primary elections. Here's another quote:

"Unpledged delegates [superdelegates] exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists."

I can understand the motivation behind closing the primaries - political parties want self-determination. 45% of the voters are now independent voters and the major parties are understandably concerned. They would like those independent voters to choose sides. They also know that the two major parties have a solid lock on the election process, and can exclude other parties at will.

But they are not willing to admit, at least on camera, that neither major party represents at least 45% of the voters. That is greater than both major parties combined.

Some are making the argument that primaries should be open because they are paid for with taxes. I think that is a reasonable argument, but it's not the nexus of the debate. The nexus of the debate is what the primary election is for.

Primary elections are held to provide people with the right of nomination for people running for election to a public office. To draw a distinction, the proper place for a closed election is for party officials, like chair and for delegates. I'm fine with that and you may be, too. But when it comes to representation in a public office, the primary election should remain open.

The reason primaries should be open is that the right of nomination belongs to us all. Especially when there is no effective alternative to the two major parties. More to the point, that nomination process is to select candidates who are fit to run for an office that represents all of us.

Open primaries prevent any one party from asserting a monopoly on power by allowing outsiders to weigh in on their nomination choices. Primary elections should be open to all even if they are paid for by the party running them. Why? Because whoever they nominate will eventually represent us all. It doesn't matter which party, if the nomination process is for public office, the primary is open.

In this election cycle, we have seen what is probably the worst one can reasonably expect in a primary contest. It is especially irksome to see that someone who has identified as an independent have to resort to running as a Democrat just to get noticed by the press. Ah, the press. That not so free press that is so unwilling to report on third party candidates for public office. That no so free press is also willing to give free coverage to those they deign to be fit for office while ignoring all the rest.

There are Hillary Clinton supporters who say that they are supremely frustrated with Bernie Sanders. They say that he should drop out so that Hillary can pivot to the general election, as if the primaries are over. Did I say that? I meant to say that Hillary supporters want her to be able to devote her remaining resources to the defense of the Democratic bid for the White House. These same Democrats appear then, to be unmoved by the frustration of independent voters.

They fail to see that Bernie ran as a Democrat precisely because of the duopoly of power held by the two major parties. They appear to lack empathy for their independently minded neighbors who do not find any representation in either major party. Those Democrats who want Bernie to drop out, do not have clean hands. Bernie is not the problem. He is a symptom of a much bigger problem.

With 45% of voters identifying as independents, it's reasonable to question the relevance, and even the legitimacy of the Democrats and Republicans. If the Democrats and Republicans do not represent almost half of the country, who exactly do they represent? I don't know, but they sure as hell are not entitled to closed primaries. Given the latest antics in the primaries, it's clear that both parties need adult supervision.

All primary elections should be open, for the right of nomination is almost as important as the right to vote. We need open primaries so that we can nominate someone worth voting for. Open primaries are a requirement in a functioning democracy, for with them, we have one more way to be sure that the political parties in power will listen to all of us.
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