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Should Wisconsin Keep an Open-Primary?

 

Wisconsin's Open Primary System

Voters in Wisconsin often forget that we have an open-primary system.  An open primary does not require voters to register to a particular party, but it does restrict individuals from voting in the Democrat and Republican primaries at the same time.  This is often confused with a closed-primary system, which requires citizens to be registered to a particular party before voting.

Open primaries are intended to preserve our county's two-party political system and keep rival parties from tampering with each others' nominees.  This year, for instance, if you chose to vote for Republican Scott Walker, you could not also vote for Democrat David Clarke.

Community Columnist Gary Nocacek is for a Blanket Primary

Gary Nocacek, a community columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, believes that Wisconsin's open primary system violates our "right to choose".  He says that limiting primary voters to a particular party amounts to voter disenfranchisement, particularly that of independents who are not loyal to any party.  Is he right?

In "California Democratic Party v. Jones", a Supreme Court case from 2000, the majority of Justices overturned California's Proposition 198.  Proposition 198 was an attempt to enact a "Blanket Primary" system where primary voters could vote for whoever they wanted regardless of party affiliation.  Sounds reasonable, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the blanket system was unconstitutional since it threatened the ability of a political party to choose their own members.  According to Justice Antonin Scalia, it could potentially destroy a party's identity.

Let's put this into perspective with Tuesday's primary as an example.  In a blanket primary, Democrat voters could have crossed over and voted for Republican Mark Neumann to be the Republican nominee in the Governor's race.  The strategy is simple.  Democrat Tom Barrett, who would meet a Republican nominee in the general election, would have an easier time beating Mark Neumann than Scott Walker.  Naturally then, if Democrats could give Neumann the votes he needed, they could hand pick the weaker Republican candidate at the same time strengthening their chances to win in the general election.  This would be like letting the Chicago Bears' head coach pick the Packer's starting lineup for their next game.

The blanket primary would nullify a voter's ability to pick their own candidate, thus destroying the party's essential function during an election campaign.  The Supreme Court ruled that citizens have the right to form parties that are protected from the casted votes of those not in that party.   

Community columnist Nocacek concedes that members of a rival party could cross-over and tamper with another party's nomination, "but only to a small extent" he says.  He reasoned, "just because a few people will exploit the system or cheat, it's not fair to stop an entire block of people from voting."  This is like saying, "Just because a few people vote illegally multiple times for the same candidate, it doesn't mean we should find ways to stop them."  After all, it's just a small fraction of people, right?

Conclusion

Nocacek doesn't consider Justice Scalia's summary point.  Under the right circumstances, a few people "exploiting the system" could nullify the power of an entire party.  The notion of a Republic (a representative democracy) is built about our ability to assemble and organize without interference.  The rights of independent voters to cross-over and interfere our assembly do not trump our First Amendment rights to freedom of association.  This is why Wisconsin has not moved to a blanket primary; and in my opinion, this is why an open primary suits me just fine.

Comments (3)
  • Nick  - Coronation

    I'm surprised by this. Based on your early pushes to have Mark Neumann drop out of the primary, I figured you would have proposed eliminating a primary all together, and simply have the party bosses select their candidate via coronation. That's basically what happened this time anyway, but why not make it official?

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez

    My criticism of Neumann was more about doing what's right for the Republican Party.

    If, for instance, Tom Barrett had a real primary challenger, then I would have no problem with Neumann staying in the race.

    My concern was a bloody GOP primary while Barrett was saving up cash for the last 6 weeks. And this is exactly what happened.

  • Nick

    So... the democratic process should only be used when it's convenient? That's a poor attitude to have.

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