Home 2016 elections The Idea of “Open” Primaries (Another Thing That Doesn’t Make Sense to...

The Idea of “Open” Primaries (Another Thing That Doesn’t Make Sense to Me)


A few days ago, I wrote here about how the media’s focus on who “won” some narrowly-decided primary between the two Democratic presidential candidates didn’t make sense. Here’s another idea that, though it has its supporters, makes no sense to me: the idea of “open” primaries. That is, the idea that people who are not affiliated with a given political party should be able to vote in the elections to determine whom that party should nominate for office.

Recently, the Bernie Sanders campaign has argued for open primaries, saying that many young people identify as “Independents,” and a closed primary deprives those young people of a voice.

That argument makes so sense to me. Of course, it is true that a closed primary does keep those who choose to be “Independents” from participating. But there is nothing that forces those people to remain independent of party affiliation– nothing that keeps them from registering as a member of the Party in which they wish to have a voice.

Why should anybody who isn’t part of a political party have any voice in deciding who will be the leaders to represent that party in the contest for political office? If someone doesn’t want to affiliate, then they can participate in the general election which is open to all registered voters, and choose then among the options provided by the parties. That is, they get to choose among the candidates put forward by those citizens who, unlike them, have come together to achieve some common goals through the organization of their political party.

I am not a member of the Rotary Club, or the Kiwanis, or Ruritan, or Lions, or any other organization of that kind. And I would not claim to have any right to tell them who their leaders should be. Why should a Democrat or Independent have the right to tell Republicans, for example, who have formed a party, who their leaders should be?

At the obvious outer edge of the question, there is the question of why someone who might wish to damage a political party should get the opportunity to do so, using a vote in an open primary to sabotage the party through its choice of candidates.

But even the non-affiliated voters mean no mischief, why should they have a say when they do not have enough commitment to that party to join?

It is said by some that a party is better off nominating people who appeal to those in the middle. That may well be so. That’s a reason that the members of the party can weigh. That’s the “winnability” issue that has often been one of the factors that people in a party take into consideration.

But how much weight to give to appealing to outsiders is for the members to decide. It is one thing for the party to consider the political advantages of appealing to unaffiliated voters, but something altogether different to let those voters come in and have a say about the party’s choice.

Constitutionally speaking, the issue might fall under the right of “association.” Part of that right, surely, is the right for people who choose to associate to make their own decision on what path to take as an organized group. If someone wants to join the association, fine– join in and you get a say.

But to barge in and wield the power of the vote in someone else’s association– does that not erode the rights of those who have exercised their freedom of association and formed a party?

In the years that I’ve been a voter, I have been a registered Democrat in Minnesota, California, Arizona, Maryland, and New Mexico. Now I live in Virginia, where voters register without party affiliation. In a state like Virginia, all primaries are inevitably “open”: anyone — a Democrat or Republican or anyone else — can vote in whatever primary they choose on the day of the election.

To my way of thinking, the arguments for closed primaries are also arguments for a state like Virginia to change its registration rules so that people can affiliate with a Party, and so that only those so affiliated can have a voice in choosing the party’s nominees.

  • Buddysystem

    With all the left biased media siding with Hillary I am surprised Hillary isnt crushing Bernie or Trump in the polls. She has an unfair advantage yet cant close the deal against Bernie or Trump. I dont think Hillary will be the next President.

    • Andy Schmookler

      Well, Buddysystem, your belief that Hillary will not be the next President, if it’s valid, gives you a chance to make some money. (The future’s market would return of about $1.60 for every dollar you put down– if you prove right.)

      After the way Trump has been acting the last couple of weeks, however, with his seeming to have no idea of what he needs to do, and after the devastating speech that Hillary gave that showed Trump’s unsuitability for the office and at the same time made her look pretty good, I would not advise your putting any money into that bet that you can’t do without.

      • Buddysystem

        There is so much out there regarding her inability to take her political gains and give back to the constituents in the form of constructive bipartisan effort. To boot she cant debate.


        With that said, what redeeming qualities does she have other than a formidable alliance with the media?

        • Andy Schmookler

          The following quotation is from
          which indicates that there is empirical evidence that shows that Hillary has been the target of more negative media attention than anyone else running. (The article explains how the study was done.)

          “The biggest news outlets published more negative stories about Hillary Clinton than any other presidential candidate — including Donald Trump — from January 2015 to April 2016, according to an analysis of hundreds of thousands of online stories.

          “Clinton has not only been hammered by the most negative coverage but the media also wrote the smallest proportion of positive stories about her, reports Crimson Hexagon, a social media software analytics company based out of Boston.”

          If that is so, it might be appropriate to contemplate the saying from Mark Twain” ““The problem isn’t the things that we don’t know; it’s the things we ‘know’ that ain’t so.”

          • Jim McBride

            hey folks this post is about open primaries….not hillary

        • notjohnsmosby

          Constructive bipartisan effort? Seeing as Republicans haven’t cared about that since 1995, I’ll just assume you’re trying to be funny.

  • Quizzical

    In the big picture, mischievous cross-over votes probably cancel each other out, and don’t make a difference. You won’t know until the general election.

    Essentially, don’t the two parties make the rules for their primaries? Plus the two parties control the legislature. So they have chosen to have open primaries, and it is not like a non-member voting in an election of officers in the local Kiwanis club. The doors are thrown open and all are invited to participate in the political process. That seems like a good thing.

    • Andy Schmookler

      Don’t I and others who want the party to represent certain values and policies have a right to make decisions about what our party does in the world, what it represents? How do I have freedom of association, if the “we” that forms the association does not have control over its own decisions?

      If they want a voice, let the join the association. What are the benefits of being an “independent,” that we should care about having them make some kind of commitment of membership and lose that precious independence. What is it, other than a statement that “neither party sufficiently represents me, or I perhaps don’t care enough about politics to decide which side I should support”? And for this, you should be able to barge in to our political party and have a say even though you have not joined us in any other way?

      Is there any evidence whatever about whether the open primary helps bring people toward the party, with more commitment afterwards to follow. If that were established? then I might reconsider. If we’re seeing them as “potential members” and not as “non-members,” then I’m willing to look at the idea of “primary voting” as a marketing device.

  • Jim McBride

    that sounds great then you look at New York’s affiliation deadline of October and the concept goes out the window.Closed Primaries only work if you have Same Day Party Affiliation…otherwise you are basically creating the kind of voter suppression that many Democrats complain about because of Voter ID Laws or lack of early voting. Why reject people who want to vote for a Democrat on Primary Day….we need to make it easier instead. In the end, these elections are about finding the best candidates not the most loyal to party affiliation.

    • notjohnsmosby

      Have closed primaries but with the deadline to select the party affiliation set to the same deadline to register to vote before an election. It’s not same day, but a couple of weeks before.

      For people who complain about open primaries, never forget that either party can have a closed process if they want. Convention, assembled caucus and unassembled caucus are three of the four commonly approved methods of nominating a candidate (they’re the four valid Democratic methods).

      An even better method is a jungle primary, where everyone votes for a max of 2 from the list of all candidates available.

  • cficare

    Sorry, boss. If you use my tax money to run your political machine in my state, then you allow all tax payers and eligible voters to participate. You want total control, then you foot the bill. End of discussion.

  • “Closed Primary” sounds a little exclusionary.