The Problem of Open Primaries

On Tuesday,  challenger Marie Newman conceded to the incumbent in IL-3 — the incumbent being Dan Lipinski who is at best described as DINO.  Lipinski won his district 51-49.  It was a slim win — even with the support of the DCCC, Susan B Anthony List, and multiple unions.  Ms. Newman had the support of SEIU, Emily’s List and Bernie Sanders.  While Newman is the kind of Democrat that many of us want to see in Congress, one thing that may not have worked in her favor is Illinois’ Open Primary setup.

From Public Policy Polling on Twitter:

If we are confident in PPP’s data (and there’s no reason to doubt the credibility of this outfit),  it looks as though highly energized Democrats could have put Newman over the top.  It was the more conservative voters — likely Rs — who gave Lipinski the race.

Illinois has an Open Primary.  This is a thing the DNC is considering encouraging states to adopt.  It means that any registered voter can vote either ballot — you just have to declare a Party when you go to the Primary.  And as we can see from this single instance, Open Primaries let Republican voters vote for the more Republican Democratic candidate.  It effectively can nullify Democrats working at upping their game — as the Dems in IL-3 were clearly trying to do.

Primaries are supposed to be about letting Parties select their candidates to run in a General Election.  I get that there is alot of concern about the people to refuse to declare a Party — opting to register as an Independent or Undeclared candidate.  Open Primaries are *supposed* to let Independents and Undeclared back into the game.  But the side effect is that it lets the GOP help to pick a Democratic candidate and pick one that is the least Democratic possible.

I’ve had a long-running argument with a local Wilmington pol who thinks the City should have Open Primaries, precisely to open them up to the GOP and Independents.  I’m not sure why I should care about GOP voters — they need to get their party to mount up candidates that might appeal to City voters.  Am sympathetic to finding a way for Independents to participate.  Maybe Open Primaries should restrict ballot choices to voters who are clearly Independent or Undeclared.  Maybe Independents could just register with a Party and participate in what Primaries are meant to be.

What I am clear about, though, is that the DNC should back away from this Open Primaries business.  Encouraging Republicans to participate in Democratic elections results in DINO’s like Dan Lipinski getting an edge over more traditional Democratic candidates — Dem candidate who might even be interested in governing from our platform.

You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. -- Shirley Chisolm

23 comments on “The Problem of Open Primaries

  1. totally agree.

  2. 100% agree! This is a ridiculous idea. Consider 2020. Trump’s running again (this can be applied to almost any incumbent president) so GOP primaries won’t really matter and will wrap up quickly. That means Republicans can, and will, vote in open Dem primaries. I swear, people need to think this stuff through.

    • not worth much more than to point out that… folks inclined to “sabotage” (my word, not saying it was used in this thread in any context other than by me right here) GOP primaries could do the same thing. Such people exist….. me, for example.
      I re-registered as a Dem to vote for Kerri Harris this season, but had given up trying to have a voice, given Delaware’s zombie-like adherence to the Delaware Way.
      Sometimes reducing a group’s numbers (by leaving) or increasing their numbers (by joining) is the only say one can get in the operations of said group. Delaware Democrat leadership sure doesnt appear to give any shits about what us common folk want… So after I cast my vote for Ms Harris, I’m back to not aligning myself with the party of John Carney.

      I like the option of moving the deadline to registers with a party closer to the actual election. Give people more time to see if they like ANY of the candidates in a primary. There are a great many registered dems who do not participate at all until election day when they vote party-line… these people are ALMOST as useless as non-voters, because they allow the Tom Carpers and Dan Lipinskis of the world to continue hurting the progressive cause by taking up valuable space much better occupied by people like Harris or Newman.

    • cassandram

      Right. And the broader immediate problem is that polls suggest that there are some factions of the GOP turning away from Trump. There are some who will vote for candidates in the primary (for Open Primaries) because they feel they have no where else to go.

      • sorry, my reading comprehension strikes again 😉
        do you mean they’ll vote for Carpery Dinos in an open dem primary, or other non-gopers voting against tr*mp in an open primary will be doing so with “real” republicans?

        • cassandram

          Saying that GOPer looking to no longer align with the Combover Caligula may turn to Dems to vote for candidates who align with their conservative views.

          • it’s likely. No one who calls themself a republican has any shred of honor or decency.
            also, 100 points for Combover Caligula.

  3. As an independent, I would not want to see an open primary for the specific reason that Cassandra states: It is the party that chooses their candidate to present to the entire electorate. If we had an open primary, there would be no purpose to the party system. However, even I can vote in a one party’s primary. All I have to do is register for that party.

    In any case, this particular race may not be a good example because the Republican opponent (Arthur Jones — an outspoken Holocaust denier, activist anti-Semite and white supremacist) has been disavowed by his own party, thus encouraging people, regardless of party, to make sure they had the strongest Democratic candidate. Obviously that raises the “electability” argument which is always poo-pooed, by those whose candidate was not selected.

    • cassandram

      I would hope that a tomato soup can could get more votes than an honest-to-god Nazi. Given the fact that most of the “hot takes” on this election has been to wonder if the Democratic Party is a comfortable place for pro-lifers now, it is difficult to see that Democrats will pick a real Democrat when there is a solid choice.

    • “If we had an open primary, there would be no purpose to the party system. ”
      from your comment to Goddess’s ears.

  4. dthompon3662

    “Maybe Open Primaries should restrict ballot choices to voters who are clearly Independent or Undeclared.” This is called a semi-closed, and it is something I’ve been talking to Rep Bentz about. Seems like a nice middle ground. In semi-closed, the party chooses who they want to allow to vote in the primary process, usually it is just previously unaffiliated. 14 states have at least one party practicing semi-closed primaries. In delaware, unaffiliated voters account for over 158k voters.

    • cassandram

      While I am sympathetic to Independents or Undeclared participating, they make the choice to not participate when they register as an Independent. If you are trying to be a No Labels person, that’s just fine. And there are good reasons to not be specifically aligned with a party. Lord knows Democrats don’t always make it easy to choose to be a Democrat. But there are those who are not Democrats because they are knee deep in the GOP spin about Dems, and don’t want to be associated with that. On the flip side, here in Delaware, we know that once you flip to D (from R typically) you aren’t quick to turn back.

  5. Mitch Crane

    I once ran for office in my local Lions Club. I wonder what would have happened if the Rotarians had been allowed a say?
    We make it pretty easy to change registration from Party to Party or no Party to Party. When the time comes to vote, it should stay as it is now- MEMBERS of each Party get to choose their nominees for the November election.

  6. It just seems wrong, whether open or semi-closed. It a membership thing. If there was some prohibition to me joining a party, then semi-closed might be an effective remedy. But it’s a choice I made (partially to avoid the junk mail) and I have to live by those rules. Democrats get to choose their candidate. If I don’t like their choices, I can always become one. Membership has it’s privileges. Oh wait, that’s American Express. Still…

  7. elizabeth

    What could be more democratic than an open primary. The two party system hasn’t produced the best minds, or candidates working for the common good (especially here in the corporate state).

    Cassandra: a nazi won a primary in Ca.

  8. Joshua W

    Why not move to a ranked choice system and eliminate primaries altogether?

    • cassandram

      I am a fan of ranked choice voting, but that would not replace a primary — just how you vote in it. If primaries are how parties select who represents them in the General, I don’t see how to eliminate them. Unless you go to CA style jungle primaries.

  9. elizabeth

    Ben, your right its Ill, not California…mis spoke. Thanks. (The republican did nothing to stop the nazi) what’s that tell us.

    • it tells us what we know. Republicans are Nazi tolerant at best and ACTUAL NAZIS at worst.

  10. elizabeth

    Having a closed primary is a way for an extreme party base to ensure it gets a candidate to election. It works hand in hand with gerrymander, or the partisan redrawing of district lines, to bend the democratic process. A candidate too extreme for the majority in a state might not survive a challenge by a party moderate in general elections, but he could easily further his process and stay in the race longer with a closed primary, and hope for an upset or a scandal, to win the general election. Increasingly, with ultra-right wing candidates we see this strategy in elections.

    Be reminded our founders didnt approve of the party system. We need many parties delivering more ideas and solutions, not less.

  11. elizabeth

    How is it that the Party selecting our candidates is truly democratic…what happened to the citizens voting for OUR choice. I have gone back and forth between democrat and independent. I am 100% a Bernie/Warren fan and will do everything I can to help them bring their “solutions” to bear. The DNC, DCCC did everything in their power to PUSH Hilary, while Sanders was having rallies with 15000 people and Hilary could’nt get 250 people out. Its an outrage to me that the DNC still refuses to support at least some of the proposals the progressives support .Backng em up are public polls proving their issues are highly supportive by a majority of voters. I have always wanted a woman president just not Hilary….maybe it will be Warren or another good woman.

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