Last night, I attended a dinner in New York City hosted by the Hoover Institution. At the dinner, two Hoover scholars, David Brady and Douglas Rivers, delivered a presentation on the state of the electorate, focusing particularly on the all-important independent voters.
At some point during the Q&A, Brady spoke at length about the dilemma that primaries present for political parties. This is a familiar topic which we here at Ricochet have discussed: during a primary, where only registered members of the party vote, the party candidates take a hard turn to the right–if Republican–or to the left–if Democrat. Then, in the general election, the emerging candidate, who is likely to be pretty conservative or pretty liberal, suddenly has to appeal to a more general audience. He has to appeal to independent voters. To Brady, this primary system betrayed the GOP in Delaware when it nominated Christine O’Donnell for the Senate seat. O’Donnell, Brady thinks, has no chance of winning.
Brady presented a solution to the primary problem–he said if he could change one thing about the electoral system, this would be it: have open primaries, as California and several other states do. In an open primary, anyone can vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. Most states have closed primaries. Here’s California’s Secretary of State on the difference between open versus closed primaries.
Closed Primary SystemA “closed” primary system governed California’s primary elections until 1996. In a closed primary, only persons who are registered members of a political party may vote the ballot of that political party.
Open Primary SystemThe provisions of the “closed” primary system were amended by the adoption of Proposition 198, an initiative statute approved by the voters at the March 26, 1996, Primary Election. Proposition 198 changed the closed primary system to what is known as a “blanket” or “open” primary, in which all registered voters may vote for any candidate, regardless of political affiliation and without a declaration of political faith or allegiance.
So with an open primary, the argument goes, since everyone–not just party members–are voting, then a more moderate candidate will win the party nomination and ultimately have a better chance at winning the general election. Would an open primary have served the GOP better in Delaware than a closed one?