This is the time of year when every non-party registered, Independent-registered, voter whines about having to pay for the primaries.
On Tuesday in PA, if you’re politically independent, you’re forced to pay for an election you can’t vote it: http://t.co/7nGpDLx6n5
— Matt Zencey (@MattZencey) May 15, 2014
Zency goes on in his op-ed to explain why this is such an “injustice”.
Now it’s true, as I wrote back then, that the U.S. Supreme Court clearly says political parties have a First Amendment right to determine who may vote in “their” political primaries.
The question is whether political parties have a First Amendment right to force you to pay for their candidate selection process.
I don’t think so
If you are going to participate in a primary election that you help pay for, you are forced to affiliate with a political party. That violates your First Amendment rights.
California recently adopted a much fairer primary election system by voter initiative.
All candidates of all parties appear on a ballot available to all registered voters within the relevant district. The top two vote getters move on to the general election in the fall. The winners could be two Republicans, or two Democrats, one of each party. A so-called minor party candidate might even win a spot on the fall ballot.
This way, taxpayers are not forced to subsidize a process that’s stacked in favor of two political parties.
The reason that the government oversees and therefore pays for elections, including primaries, is because the government is the best entity to provide the public good of free and fair elections, crucial to any democratic process.
I am not sure how Zency establishes that closed primary elections violate his constitutionally protected right to free speech. That aside, closed primaries have a valuable effect on the American political system.
In keeping our primaries closed, exclusionary to non-party registered voters, it keeps non-party registered, but still ideologically affiliated voters from raiding ideologically affiliated party elections. Senator Rob Teplitz has introduced a bill that pretty much guarantees this.
Raiding destroys the credibility and predictability of party labels in national, state, and some local elections. It leads to less competitive elections, less accountability of electeds to voters, and greater corruption. Seth Masket explains why.
Most voters have little idea what individual members of a legislature are doing from day to day, but they can evaluate the performance of the majority party, and if they don’t like the way things are going, they can vote in a new party. This kind of partisanship brings some accountability to the system. Legislatures with weak or nonexistent parties are often quite collegial, but they do not produce obviously better laws, and they want for accountability and may be more prone to corruption.
What do you do then if you are registered independent and steamed that you cannot vote in PA’s primaries?
But what about the supposedly successful, non-partisan, California System?
Parties responded to that system by endorsing candidates prior to the primary, conveying to voters who the preferred Democrats and Republicans are. And it turns out those endorsements are pretty important, giving backed candidates an extra ten points or so in the primary election.
Here’s the beauty part: The candidates have figured out that those endorsements matter, so they’re starting to suck up to party elites to win them. As Roll Call reports:
California’s new top-two primary system was supposed to revolutionize the state’s political process. Instead, it’s forcing candidates to revert to an antiquated practice: competing for the state party’s endorsement.
I suppose reformers can take credit for helping to bring about greater competition in primaries. But it also appears to be the case that the top-two system has strengthened the hand of party leaders. Candidates recognize the value of the endorsement, and they’re willing to pay a price, perhaps ideologically, to win it.
So to recap, register with a party that most closely fits your ideology, and then support the candidates and officials within that party that share your views. That is how to create more competitive elections and the political outcomes you desire.