There’s a lot of strong opinions for and against closed and open primaries. Sadly, there’s a lot of opinions that are devoid of any facts and instead are based solely on emotion. To clear up a few things, it’s important to note the different types of primaries, not to be confused with a caucus. On a side note, four states use the Caucus System, they’re Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Maine.
Now that we know which states Caucus, we can move on to discussing the most common types of primaries. However, there are more types of primary systems than the ones I’ll briefly discuss below, but the ones below are the most common in elections above the local level. On a side note, some common local primary types are the Blanket or Non-Partisan Blanket system which I’ll not touch on. In fact, many countywide elections and school board elections across the country still run a form of Non-Partisan elections.
In 2019, the Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee voted on holding a Closed Primary, the vote ultimately failed. Had it passed; it would have been up to the State Legislature to make the final decision. Given Tennessee has a super-majority in the State Legislature, I find it hard to see it not passing, but I wouldn’t have held my breath.
In a Closed Primary, only registered voters who’ve declared for a given political party at some point before election day, may vote in that party’s primary. On its face it makes sense, but I believe a party that holds a closed primary should pay for it and not the taxpayers.
Currently, there are 14 states with Closed Primaries, they are Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Wyoming. As you can see, there are seven “Red” & seven “Blue” states that have Closed Primaries. So, when you hear someone say “this is another instance of Republicans infringing on voting rights” you can shut down their “fake news” talking point and point out the 7 Democratic states that hold closed primaries. After all, is it fair for someone who doesn’t share the same political philosophy or governing principles as you and your chosen party to decide who’ll be your party nominee!? I think not!
An Open Primary, in this type of primary any registered voter, may vote in any primary regardless of their own party affiliation. Currently, there are 11 states with Open Primaries, they are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Certainly, a mix of “Red,” “Blue” and “Purple” states. There are many of my fellow Tennesseans who believe this is the type of primary Tennessee holds, in fact, it’s not.
The next type of primary that I want to touch on is the Semi-Open Primary, which is the type Tennessee utilizes. In this type of primary, a registered voter must declare publicly on Election Day which party primary ballot they wish to receive before entering the voting booth. In other words, party affiliation for voters officially occurs on Election Day and not at some other time before. In Tennessee, we have political parties and clubs that cut across the political spectrum, but one’s party affiliation or club membership doesn’t prevent an individual from drawing a different party’s ballot on Election Day. Also, there are many independent voters who feel it’s not right to vote in a party primary and choose to only vote in General Elections.
There are certainly other types of primary systems, but the ones I briefly touched on here are the most common in elections above the local level. Every one of them comes with a set of issues, but no matter which system a state chooses to use, there’s always going to be those who find fault.
In my well-informed opinion, the Open and Semi-Open Primaries seem to have the most flaws. One major issue that occurs is the act known as “Raiding,” this process is when individuals from other parties cross over and help choose the opposing party’s general election candidate(s). This has the potential of one party getting a weaker nominee than they would have liked, making it more difficult in the general election, especially in places where neither party holds any significant advantage.
On the other hand, in areas that lean heavily towards one party over another, where the individual who wins their party primary essentially automatically wins the general election, “Raiding” can and does play a role in nominating a candidate who’s more flexible in their party principles than the party faithful would like. As an example, let’s say a Congressional District is a safe Republican district, and the person who wins the primary can take a nap until it’s time to be sworn into office. However, it’s possible due to “Raiding” that the nominee may not check all the requisite blocks a Republican nominee should check.
At the same time, there are some that feel “Raiding” isn’t a big deal and believe an elected representative should represent all the viewpoints of their constituents. This of course is a foolish notion, as there’s no possible way an elected representative could ever represent or vote according to every single constituents’ viewpoint, making their argument invalid. However, an elected representative shouldn’t discount the viewpoint of those who are ideologically opposed to their own.
However, if a representative adheres to their oath to the Constitution, they don’t have to try to represent every viewpoint, freeing them to adhere to sound principles and not the dictates of a vocal minority. Despite having Congressional Districts that are overwhelmingly Republican or Democrat, a Representative should ensure they’re accessible to all their constituents and not just the ones who are members of their party.
If Tennessee ever switches to a Closed Primary, we’ll become the 8th “Red” state along with the 7 “Blue” states who already hold this type of primary. Despite what some may allege, a Closed Primary wouldn’t and doesn’t infringe on anyone’s right to vote. This isn’t taking away anyone’s rights, it’s simply meant to try and prevent those affiliated with another party and those with less than honorable intentions from choosing candidates that will represent a given party on the general election ballot.
Bottom line, I’m ok with Tennessee holding a Closed Primary, my issue is the fact that political parties and not the taxpayers should pay for them. It’s not right for every taxpayer to pay for something they’re not permitted to participate in. On another note, I believe the State Legislature should address the issue regarding ballot access as well, but that’s a story for another time.
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