Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Primary Objection

Last week there was a primary election for Governor here in Massachusetts. I did not vote in this primary. In fact, I don't vote in any primaries. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, I mentioned to someone that I wouldn't be voting in the primary and was looked at like a complete nut who doesn't understand his civic duty. This person is an active member in civic organizations and works polling places and such. I can understand the push to get folks involved, but I think if I had mentioned I don't vote for President either she'd have blown a gasket (that's a topic for another day). But I am not some nut, and I do understand my civic duty. I understand it better than most, I think. And because I do, I do not vote in primary elections.

Here's the first issue. I don't vote in primaries because I have no party affiliation. I'm "unenrolled" (which is what we call independents, since there's an "Independent" party). I know that everywhere in the country independents vote in primary elections. They are encouraged to do so. What's wrong with that, you may ask? What's wrong with it is that's not what a primary election is for. We act as if the voting process is like some big bracket scheme, and that we have to go through early rounds of voting before we get to the Final Four. This is not it at all. If that were the case I would vote (...and have serious reservations about our democracy).

The purpose of a primary election is so that the party can choose its candidate. That's why there are two ballots; a Democratic and Republican ballot. Now, I could also get tangential on the insanity of a "two-party" system, but that too should be reserved for another day. And to be fair, I believe there was actually a Libertarian ballot as well this time around. Suffice to say though that really these elections are for party members to decide on their candidate. Why then are we allowing outsiders to vote in those elections? I don't understand why they would WANT independents to vote in their elections! If you want a candidate who best represents YOU, why allow an opinion from Joe down the block? For independents to vote, they have to choose a ballot to vote on; they can't vote on both. Effectively, they are encouraged to disguise themselves as members of one party. It would be as if the vote were between the Red-Head party and the Moustache party and there was a guy outside the polls passing out moustaches and wigs! That's like letting the Big Bad Wolf throw on a curly tail and be a Pig for the day. At least if independents were required to vote on both ballots that would, though still ridiculous, have the virtue of "canceling out" errant ideas in fairness. That way conservative independents can't just vote Democrat in hopes of a lesser opponent winning, or vice versa.

So my primary reason for not voting in primaries is that I do not belong to either party and it is therefore not my vote. The notion that I should be voting in such elections strikes me as un-American, undemocratic, and terribly suspicious. How can any thinking person support such an idea? Imagine if the election hinged on one deciding vote. Can you really say you're okay with that vote coming from a random independent who likely doesn't espouse your ideals? That's equivalent to holding a school board meeting but having some random Canadian janitor from another state show up and cast a vote regarding budget reform. THAT's how absurd it is.

Beyond this point though, I question the good sense of even having these primaries. Why limit the Party's exposure by narrowing down to one candidate? Invariably every year one Party ends up deciding they backed the wrong horse. Our government was established with the concept that anyone able could run for office. It isn't limited to "major Party players". As long as you're on the ballot, that's enough. And why limited the Democratic presence or the Republican presence to one candidate? There's some belief floating around that to do offer more than one candidate would split the vote, ensuring a loss for your Party. But I ask, why should that be so? If such a thing occurs, that's generally what Third-Party candidates are blamed for doing. But given more choices, I think many voters might be more inclined to vote towards a different party if there were more candidates to choose from. Ideally there should not even be parties. But couldn't we just once try offering a few more candidates all up for the vote and see where it gets us? I mean, we can pick Best Picture of the Year from a list of 10, but have to pick our leadership from 2 to 5 people? This sort of thinking leads more towards the "lesser of two evils" kind of voting than real support, and an official who doesn't hold public support can never be as effective as he should be. The logical step, then, is not to encourage more voters to vote in primaries; it's to eliminate primaries altogether. Or if you feel your party must whittle things down, let's see a little more fairness in the representation of all the other third-party candidates that will crowd the ballot. I'd like to see 10 names on a ballot someday, even if half of them are crazy or think exactly the same way.

If we're for choice in this country, then let's be for choice! Stop polluting the Party decisions with independent votes. What sets the Democrats or Republicans apart if their decisions are made in part by outsiders? Is it simply a name and a perceived ideology, or is it a true group of like-minded individuals working to effect change by way of their organization? Allowing independent voting on primary election day isn't helping you, your candidate, or your democracy; it's actually diluting your party. In the end, if everyone can play the game, why distinguish yourself as a party? For example then, it's less the "Republican Party", and more the "Democrats Not Allowed" party. That's just boys' treehouse politics; childish and stupid. Parties, if you don't want to be a laughing stock, close your doors to independents. Independents, if you want to be respected as free-thinkers, let the Parties have their elections and keep your opinions for the real election day. And to everyone else, don't think of me as some uninformed rube. I understand the system all too well. I'm not an idiot. I'm a conscientious objector.

1 comment:

  1. I honestly have some trouble with "unenrolled" people being able to vote in party primaries, too. In my earliest days of voting, I was "unenrolled" (in those days it was called "independent") and I did not vote in primaries. In THOSE days, you had to JOIN the party to vote in the primary, and then you could immediately "UNJOIN" afterward. That is still the case in RI, but in MA now they've thrown all that, "be a Democrat or Republican for 5 minutes" thing out and just allow "unenrolled" people to vote. In Protestant churches where congregations "vote in" the pastor, it would be as if a few Catholics and Jews showed up on the Sunday the pastor was being voted in at First Congregational Church and expected to have a vote! I don't agree with you not voting for president...but I understand it's because you're an electoral college purist. I chose to register Republican because of all the current parties it's the closest to my way of thinking but I DO vote for some Democrats and others in General elections!