Are Open Primaries a Step in the Right Direction?

Making sense of the California ballot is like reading Chinese.  Literally, it actually is — although the state graciously provides English and Spanish translations.

One proposition that I find especially baffling is Proposition 14, which would introduce the open primary process for congressional, statewide, and legislative races.  In an open primary, all voters can choose any candidate regardless of political party preference.  The two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes appear on the general election ballot.

How, if at all, would an open primary system change the political process?  Who would benefit most from the change?  Would this system prove easier or more difficult than our current system to manipulate?

Crossing my fingers that Mike Murphy weighs in on this one.

  1. Harlech

    Pick your poison. Closed primaries give the party faithful the candidate that they want — and will want to campaign for. Open primaries can help centrist/moderate Republicans get nominated in a state where a conservative ideologue stands no chance statewide. Tom McClintock may be a great guy but is not electable. Sorry.

  2. Michael Labeit

    I agree. Either primary can potentially backfire. In this case however, I would prefer an open primary so that moderate democrat voters frustrated with high-spending democrat politicians can vote against them.

  3. Max

    I spend a fair amount of time in the Capitol in Sacramento and I have no idea if Prop 14 is a good idea or not. The Republican establishment (which in California is not so impressive) seems to be behind it, while the incumbents and labor unions seem to oppose it.

    This is a case where I will probably have to decide based on the players not the policy.

  4. FeliciaB

    As soon as I read the description of Prop 14, I saw red. What’s the point of having political parties and ideology if everyone is in the same pot and voting for whomever campaigns the best? I vote in my party’s primary because I want to have a say in what my party guy/gal will stand for in the general elections. I see open primaries as a way to dilute my vote. I’m not down with that. My vote is diluted enough in the People’s Republic of California.

  5. Pat in Obamaland

    As Tristan and Michael say, both types of primaries have their problems but Prop 14′s flaws seem far more dangerous to me. By having traditional primaries, the general election presents a clear decision between a candidate that is a Republican and a Democrat. While each district and each election may vary on how far to the left or right the candidates are, the general election is at least a choice.

    Prop 14 strikes me as the perfect way for powerful political players to rig general elections during the primaries; a time when the voter turnout is traditionally much lower. I can envision powerful unions and activists groups turning out to nominate a pair of left-wing candidates and entirely shutting out Republican competition. Prop 14 could be a big step to further entrenching machine politics in California the way it has long been entrenched in my home of Chicago.

  6. Harlech
    FeliciaB: I vote in my party’s primary because I want to have a say in what my party guy/gal will stand for in the general elections. · May. 27 at 8:40pm

    Would you rather have someone you agree with 100% run for election and lose or someone you agree with 75% run for election and win?

  7. Michael Labeit

    On second thought, it probably isn’t a good idea.

  8. Michael Labeit

    Then again, given the political convictions of the majority of Californians, a change in the form of the democratic process will yield only a negligible change in the content or result of the democratic process. Often times, conservatives will appeal to majority opinion when arguing against a liberal bill. Unfortunately, when it comes to California, its often the case that the majority endorses a particular liberal bill. Sometimes, you have to let stubborn people bury themselves. What a shame though.

  9. Diane Ellis
    C
    Harlech

    FeliciaB: I vote in my party’s primary because I want to have a say in what my party guy/gal will stand for in the general elections. · May. 27 at 8:40pm

    Would you rather have someone you agree with 100% run for election and lose or someone you agree with 75% run for election and win? · May. 27 at 10:03pm

    Harlech, do you mean to suggest that an open primary would result in the election of more politically moderate candidates?  The options you’ve presented above seem like a false dichotomy.  It seems more likely that the candidates with the fattest campaign purses or the support of large unions would come out on top.

  10. FeliciaB
    Harlech

    FeliciaB: I vote in my party’s primary because I want to have a say in what my party guy/gal will stand for in the general elections. · May. 27 at 8:40pm

    Would you rather have someone you agree with 100% run for election and lose or someone you agree with 75% run for election and win? · May. 27 at 10:03pm

    Harlech, the reality is I don’t agree with anyone in this world 100%. Not even my husband, who I have dilligently trained for the past 2 decades agrees with me 100%… ;-) I think it’s less about finding the perfect candidate than it is about having my itty bitty vote diluted in the giant pool of massive campaigns. Our political system is about winnowing the candidates down through a process. But now we’re just going to skip the process of winnowing and will mostly likely end up with the worst option or at least the most beholden option.

  11. FeliciaB

    I think a lack of a primary in the California governor’s recall election in 2003 is what gave us our current, windmill “governator” (Ahnold keeps changing his stance so many times he looks like a windmill in galeforce winds). While I wanted to vote for Tom McClintock, I didn’t because I was terrified of Bustamante. I think if we would have had a primary, McClintock would have been elected. Once McClintock had the backing of the party, I do believe he would have won the election against Bustamante and/or Davis (since we actually had that option on our mundo bizaro ballots).

  12. Harlech
    Diane Ellis

    Harlech, do you mean to suggest that an open primary would result in the election of more politically moderate candidates? The options you’ve presented above seem like a false dichotomy. It seems more likely that the candidates with the fattest campaign purses or the support of large unions would come out on top. · May. 27 at 10:09pm

    I do, indeed, mean to suggest that. See John McCain in 2008. And fat campaign purses and union support operate in both closed and open primaries. You are looking for a perfect solution and there simply isn’t one.

  13. John Boyer
    Tristan Abbey: Pick your poison. Closed primaries give the party faithful the candidate that they want — and will want to campaign for. Open primaries can help centrist/moderate Republicans get nominated in a state where a conservative ideologue stands no chance statewide. Tom McClintock may be a great guy but is not electable. Sorry. · May. 27 at 7:33pm

    Perhaps. In the special election to replace Grey Davis, McClintock could have easily won if the GOP hadn’t insisted on heavily backing Ahnold. He had the right appeal and the conditions were perfect to elect a conservative.

    Instead we insisted on going with a “moderate” and it’s turned out terribly.

    Although you might be right as far as a normal election goes. Cruz Bustamante was a joke and too heavily tied to Davis to be a legitimate threat.

  14. John Boyer

    The main problem I see with the open primary system as proposed (I haven’t recieved my absentee voting guide yet so I haven’t been able to read the proposition) is that if there are multiple GOP candidates running, there is the possibility of splitting the vote so that neither candidate ends up on the ballot (if the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, end up on the general election ballot).

    Better to vet our candidates in a closed primary. Democrats in districts with more slightly more center-right independents could sway voters by effectively running as conservatives in the primaries and thus draw enough support to keep the GOP off the general election ballot. Thus we might end up with two Democrats.

    If the moderates in the district help push the more moderate GOP candidate into the general, one who the staunch conservatives would not vote for, wouldn’t this have the effect of suppressing GOP turnout in the general?

  15. Ottoman Umpire

    So we’ll soon find out.

  16. Diane Ellis
    C
    Ottoman Umpire: So we’ll soon find out. · Jun 9 at 3:01pm

    I went from undecided to staunchly opposed to open primaries after the conversation here on Ricochet, only to have my hopes and dreams smashed by yesterday’s election returns.  But I guess we’ll see how things turn out. 

  17. FeliciaB

    I am sad and disheartened. Oh well. That is the downside of a representative republic – not getting what I want all of the time.

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