Primarily Secret

by | May 10, 2015 | Politics/Government

There are those among us who are not concerned with the 7% voter turnout in last Tuesday’s primary.  Besides the candidates that won their party’s nomination in this exercise in government wastefulness and seeming display of public disengagement, I am also unconcerned with the low numbers.

The process is so flawed, I don’t even participate.  What!?  That’s right.  Why?  I think it is outrageous that I have to make it public that I am voting either as a Democrat or a Republican, and since it is not a secret ballot, I am out.  The primary is used simply as the process to nominate each party’s candidate for the general election in the November election.  And since I can’t vote using a truly secret ballot, I  think the party’s should settle their nominating processes themselves.

There are four different types of primary processes in the states:  open, closed, top two, and our process, which is a hybrid.  Eleven states have “open” primaries in which any registered voter can vote in either party’s election.  Eleven states have “closed” primaries or caucuses in which only registered members of the party can participate in the nominating process of either party.  Four states use a “top two” system in which all candidates appear on the same ballot, and the top two vote getters appear on the ballot in the Fall.  No state uses the top two system for Presidential nominations.  24 states, Indiana among them, use some sort of hybrid of the systems above.*

While Indiana sounds like an open system, it’s lack of secrecy in the declaration by the voter is one thing that makes it different.  I do not understand why a voter in Indiana must declare that he or she is voting in the Democrat or Republican primary, and why those choices are kept as a matter of public record.  As a function of this government run and taxpayer funded process, it’s a turnoff for many.  More importantly though, as a function of government, it is absolutely unnecessary.  There is no justifiable reason for a voter to have to declare a party affiliation in any taxpayer funded process.

A truly “open” system would encourage participation to some extent, although I am not certain that the parties would see that as desirable.  A “closed” system should be funded solely by the parties themselves, and could prove to be equal on participation numbers, but self funding the nomination process probably sounds downright offensive to the machines.

The question I really have here is what is the government’s interest in Indiana in its primary elections?  Outside of our participation in Presidential nominations, we largely do have the ability to do this any way we want.  And when I say “we,” I mean the registered voters, not the parties.  I actively choose not to participate in primaries, but cherish my right to vote in elections like no other.  They are two distinctly different things.

In practical terms, it is fascinating watching the Republican candidates for president fight for their party’s nomination.  It is fascinating because many of the positions and tactics that endear the candidates to the demographic doing the nominating will likely make it difficult for the nominee in the general election next year.  Immigration reform and conservative social values might win someone a primary, but the electorate is trending away from the Republican base on both.

A smaller and reverse version of the same challenge might be shaping up for Democrats in Indiana’s gubernatorial process simultaneously. Indiana’s last two elected Governors (Bayh and O’Bannon) and U.S. Senators (Bayh and Donnelly) all ran fairly conservative campaigns that served them well in November.  The upcoming campaigns for both offices will likely be a challenge to display and support more traditional Democrat values in the nominating process, and force a test run with the Indiana electorate on those issues in the Fall.  It could be a high stakes gamble for the party in a historically significant winner-take-all battle.

Oddly, I don’t have some brilliant pearl of wisdom to solve these challenges for the parties.  My suggestion is that convincing independent voters that your party is most correct and getting those who are convinced to show up and vote on Election Day is the entire fight.

In any case, the way we run primaries here does not encourage participation.  Since it doesn’t, we should reevaluate how we do it.  At a minimum, Indiana tax payers should not pay for the primary election that was held this week.  And unless the ballot becomes truly secret, we never should.

*Source:  National Conference of State Legislatures–www.ncsl.org.

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