Monday, March 27, 2006

Primary Colors

I seldom vote in primaries because I find it distasteful to be forced to pledge allegiance to a body for which I feel no particular fidelity. When it comes to the almighty two party political system, I am a devote agnostic and do not worship false idols, be they elephants and a donkeys. But when the opportunity arose this cycle to loosen the Democratic and Republican grip on the electoral process, I heeded the call.

I had been led to believe that I could vote for the open primary advisory referendum without requesting a party ballot. I felt somewhat duped when told that I did have to state a party preference, but was free to vote only on the referendum question. My objection to the current system isn’t that I have to vote for people; if that were the case I would stay home during the general elections as well. So I was forced to perform a mental coin flip to decide which party’s precinct committee person gets to offer me a ride to the polling place next November, and consequently, determine whether I will be arriving in a gas-guzzling, freedom-loving SUV or a rice-subsidizing, socially-conscious Prius.

The SJ-R ran an editorial addressing the parties’ self-serving desire to keep the current system in place. The party organizers like receiving a listing of likely voters from the county that they can use to target future campaign efforts. The editorial wisely pointed out that the purpose of a publicly-funded election isn’t to feed the needs of the party machinery, and as such, theirs isn’t a worthy argument against open primaries.

Even more galling, however, is the reason the parties’ give for opposing the alternative. They believe that open primaries would allow for some unscrupulous voting tactics that they would have no choice but engage in because, well, that is their nature.

Most of you are probably familiar with the scenario that they claim would befall the pristine state of elections as they exist today.

Using the latest primary as an example, Blagojevich loyalists, knowing that their man was assured of the Democratic nomination, could jury-rig the election by voting for the conservative Oberweiss, a candidate that they presume would be easier to defeat in November than the more moderate Topinka. Of course they could have done that under the current system, but that would have meant that dyed-in-blue Democrats (those most likely to have gone along with such a ruse) would have suffered the indignity of having their names appear on a Republican roster, a fate they may feel is worse than being mistakenly listed on the sex offender registry.

I find it crass when people argue a against a new law by contending that it will only force the people whose behavior the law is targeting, to break a different law or otherwise act unethically. The licensed beverage folks tried this tactic when they told us that a smoking ban in bars would force smokers to congregate outside our homes, where they would litter their butts in our yard and wake us with their hacking. And now the Democrats and Republicans are telling us that they can’t be responsible for their actions if we don’t bow to their desires that every person entering a polling place be branded with one of their marks.

Even if the open primary is instituted, as proposed, it would still stifle the truly independent voter because you could still only vote for one party’s candidates.

Why can’t I vote for Candidate (D) in one race and Candidate (R) in another, if that is my preference? Why are the party bosses fearful of a voter who wields a discriminate stylus* in the voting booth? Is it because that such freedom might lead to the emergence of a viable third party, or no-party? Is it because the present system allows them to gerrymander and protect their incumbents? No wonder more people don't vote.

*Although I am a progressive when it comes to improving voting technology, “wielding the stylus” clearly lacks the poetry of “pulling the lever” and for that reason alone voting will probably never be as physically satisfying as it was in an earlier time.

16 comments:

The 26th Man said...

Wielding the stylus? Pulling the lever? Those sound like euphemisms for "shaking hands with the president."

Anonymous said...

I believe you were snowed at your polling place. You can ask for a "proposition only" ballot that allows you to vote only on ballot questions - not candidates - without picking a party. Check into it.

The risk of shennanigans under an open primary system is very real - especially in a state like Illinois. Now at least, Cook County Democrats would have had to forego the Stroger/Claypool race to cross over and vote for Oberweis for Governor AND have that glaring R on their voting record. Under the new system, there would have been no such disincentive.

I think most supporters of the party system like myself might be OK with just having the choice of ballots kept secret, as opposed to recorded. Then you'd still have the same major disincentive for tampering without completely losing the whole point of the system.

I think your argument should be against public funding, rather than totally destroying the whole primary system. Like it or not, primaries are party activities, and if you believe those should be paid for by the parties, fine.

But letting voters cross over defeats the whole purpose of the primary - parties picking who their nominee will be for the General. If we're going to do that, then we should just have everyone run closer to the fall, and have the top two vote-getters do a run-off in the General.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Jeff,

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the phrase "shaking hands with the president." Is that something unique to your line of work or perhaps a hobby you engage in?

Anon,

I would have no problem with party-funded primaries or run-off elections. I may not even mind if people know how I voted, although I should probably think that through more carefully. I just want to be free to vote for whoever I think will be the best candidate, and in my mind, that isn't determined by their party.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

Anonymous said...

The Cicero Machine had their (usually) Republican voters pull Dem ballots and vote for Sen. Sandoval and Lisa Hernandez. In November you'll see those same voters come out for Judy.

Anonymous said...

I think I have to agree with Anon 10:12. The origin of our primary system was a direct response to the back-room deals practiced by the parties of old. Reformers wanted a method of bringing sunshine to the selection of party candidates. But in the end it was still a function of the party. To take this function out of the hands of the party altogether, which an open primary might do, would be detrimental to the operations of the parties. Maybe people don’t care what happens to the parties, and if so we should be looking at a system that supports multiple interest groups – such as a parliamentary system. But until those kinds of changes are made I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that political parties should have the ability to choose who their slate of candidates will be.

When you are standing in the isle at Hollywood Video trying to decide on your next movie to review on the treadmill, should you be required to accept the input from every passing stranger? No – you just rent what you think looks good based on your personal criteria. Why should the guy lurking in the porn section have the ability to influence your decision?? An open primary is like guys who lurk in the porn section . . . just plain creepy!

Just some guy’s opinion.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Anon the Recent,

So are you saying that since I don’t identify with either party, I have no business voting in a primary? That I’m the creepy guy lurking in the porn section trying to exert undue influence? Well I never!

I’m certainly no expert on the electoral process as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t intend it to be the exclusive domain of the Republicans and Democrats. (Weren’t there Whigs and Free-Soilites to contend with at various times?)

I understand, even more so thanks to your and the previous Anon’s comments, that there is a definite downside to open primaries. But I find it hard to believe that the only viable alternative is a system that restricts freedom of choice. Why shouldn’t I have been able to pick from among the Republican candidates for governor while also casting a vote for either Cahnman or Redpath, since those were the only real choices in those races?

If a primary is a function of the parties, as you say, then why are we taxpayers paying Joe Aiello to facilitate the whole affair? Why are straight-party voters catered to while free-thinking independent voters are portrayed as trench-coated sexual deviants? And what do you think Ralph Nader would have to say about all of this?

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

Anonymous said...

"Why are straight-party voters catered to while free-thinking independent voters are portrayed as trench-coated sexual deviants? And what do you think Ralph Nader would have to say about all of this?"
Well,,,to answer your question..first you must admit you are that trench-coated sexual deviant..exceptance it the first step...
the second step is to look at modern history...the 60's and 70's swung so far left that Reagan and the 80's caused a backlash to the right....ever since then anything out of the ordinary is considered "wierd" (also call wrong by most conservatives) Ralph Nader is considered "out there" and now all free-thinkers
"who look outside the box" in the political realm are considered lost causes...until More people in America turn offf Fox News and realize Rush isn't always right..then anyone who bucks the system (ie...runs as a third party candidate) is a lost cause.

Don't ge me wrong Dan... I whole-heartly agree with you that our current system no longer works.

Anonymous said...

“why are we taxpayers paying Joe Aiello to facilitate the whole affair?”

Public funding of primaries is a questionable policy, I agree. But it was done to help further open the process, and it was implemented with the knowledge that the primaries are a function of the parties (i.e., it’s not like the parties fought for public funds and then closed the primaries). I don’t know what the answer is – heck I’m not sure what the question is anymore! But if you are truly an independent voter then why should you get to tell me who my party has to put on my party’s ballot? Go get your own party and make your own decisions.

You can now commence with your rebuttal based on the fact that (no matter what the rules say) we live in a closed two-party system that actively dissuades 3rd party involvement – so as such the de jure role of political primaries as organizing activities of like-minded citizens has been wholly subsumed by their de facto role as pre-season tune-ups for the almost-anointed.

And I don’t think you are a deviant – but all independents who want to vote for a split ticket are asking for a government permanently entrenched in partisan warfare and inefficiencies. You certainly have the right to vote as you wish, but don’t be surprised by the outcome . . .

Just some guy

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Just Some Guy,

I bow to your superior knowledge of why the primary system is the way it is. I still think it is anti-democratic.

You said:
all independents who want to vote for a split ticket are asking for a government permanently entrenched in partisan warfare and inefficiencies.

I say:
How is that any different that what we have now? The Democrats and Republicans despise each other and never miss an opportunity to not work together.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

UMRBlog said...

Dan,

Under general principles of Illinois Election Law you should have been able to vote on a proposition without taking out either ballot. The current election tote software even has a column for those ballots in gross. It sounds to me like you ran into an undertrained election judge crew.

I know that Sam pumped up the ideas of "open primaries" over there. Another commentator already made reference to the history of the thing (replacing caucuses.) and somebody made reference ot the "mischief" argument. The "mischief" can and does happen anyway.

It seems that,logically extended, your argument is for non-partisan ballots altogether. Have one election in March with EVERYBODY tossed in for each office and then have a runoff of the top two in November. It sounds so clean and nice but isn't that kind of how you already run your clean, nice Mayoral elections in Springfield anyhow? If we wipe away as much partisanship as possible, it also ends up making it even harder than it is now for the legislature to function. You'll have the same egos at work without the party discipline and incentive to agree (i.e., legislative campaign funds).

Maybe we can take care of most of your concerns by rendering party preference non-public information by statute. In software terms it would be easy to do. I realize that doesn't take care of all of your issues but it's a start and it doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We linked your stimulating Blog about a month ago and thought we request that you do the same. Gagged on the second part I guess. Went back and looked and we never made the request so I'm making it now. Would be honored if you would consider us worthy of a link from your blog. Thanks.

Oh,

CPS: I think that someone would make the "porn section" analogy is creepier than the concept of promiscuous non-party voting

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

UMRBlog,

As you probably are aware, Cahnman's open primary proposition passed overwhelmingly. I'm curious as to how much of the support is due to the large number of state workers in Springfield who are fearful of layoffs whenever there is a change in administration. If a similar proposition was put to a vote in Quincy or in any other Illinois community that you are familiar with, how do you think voters would respond?

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

UMRBlog said...

Dan,

I think it might, in a presidential primary year when the turnout was high. Wouldn't be overwhelming but it tracks with the standard political outsider response when asked about party affiliation: "I vote for the man!". This affirmation is right up there with "Some of my best friends are black!" in point-missing but I digress.

Somehow, it got to be virtuous to be non-affiliated, to be a thoughtful independent voter. Never mind that the voter doesn't have a freaking idea who his alderman or county board member is or what the credentials are of either candidate running for circuit judge. He "votes for the man!" If he had a party affiliation, he'd at least have a tie-breaker for all those races on which he's stumped, sort of rebuttable presumption.

(The above may qualify as a rant).

In any event, I think that such a proposition might pass here because nobody wants to belong to the same club as the worst of either squad. What middle american wants to be id'd with the DeLay or Teddy?

(modified additional tangential rant)

So party politics has a bad name because of gasbags and crooks. Why do we try to take the parties out of it instead of taking the crooks and gasbags out of it? Maybe when we get gasbag and crook DNA testing perfected parties will come into vogue.

Additional tangent: Did you ever get the straight poop from your election authority about the proposition vote? I'm just sure you got hosed.

Tony

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Tony,

I think that you are correct that the firebrands in each party are largely responsible for causing people such as me to look with disdain at the two party system. But my reasons for wanting to play the field when voting don’t always come down to finding the lesser of two evils. If you do take a thoughtful look at all the candidates, and not just those of a particular party, then ineviatably there will be elections where you will prefer a Democrat in one race and a Republican in another, especially if you are a moderate. I don’t have to agree with a candidate on every issue to vote for them, especially if I don’t think the issues on which we differ will come into play in the office they are running for. And neither party has a monopoly on decent people running as candidates, so I would think that even a party loyalist would, on occasion, find themselves attracted to someone from the other side of the tracks.

No, I haven’t notified the proper authorities about not being able to vote for the proposition without requesting a party ballot, although I suppose it is my duty as a citizen and a blogger to do so. I’m sure it was just a case of someone not knowing the drill. If I had been more certain about the issue, I would have asked someone else working the poll to intercede. But since I was partly ignorant of the rules, I’m partly to blame as well.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

Anonymous said...

I think it comes down to this: what is the purpose of a primary election? I believe it is to decide which candidates will represent each party in the upcoming general election. Therefore it is a function of the party – and not an open invitation to the populace.

You, as an independent voter, can “play the field” in the general election. But I don’t understand why you should get a say in which candidate my party has to support if you are not a member of my party.

Dan, I’d really appreciate hearing your response.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Anon,

I would say, with all due respect, that if “your” party wants to elect “your” candidates then you should fund the process with “your” money and not my tax dollars. If the primary system is intended to circumvent true democracy by excluding a segment of the population that doesn't fit in the classic left-right mold, then don’t ask me to pay for it.

But since I am paying for it, I want to be able to cast meaningful votes. If I like the Republican in one race, and a Democrat in another, then I should be able to vote for them. I realize I can do this in the general election, but why do I have to wait until the party loyalists narrow down the field? The party loyalists gave us Rod Blagojevich instead of Paul Vallas. Now look what they’ve done.

Let me ask you this: Do you vote a straight party ticket in the general election, or do you sometimes cross over and vote against someone you supported in the primary?

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

UMRBlog said...

Dan,

Sam was here with his traveling salvation show Friday. Maybe we'll find out whether it'll pass here. My guess is the League of Women Voters will jump on it like a duck on a june bug. It just sounds so freaking virutous and unsoiled!

I'd be happy to go back to caucuses (or "cauci")but, if I walked past a mailbox on the way to the meeting and any of the candidates sprung for a Pizza I'd get FitzGeralded (which is the modern word for indicted for mail fraud).

Tony