25 June 2014
Open primaries vs. the Tea Party
In Mississippi an elderly conservative Republican U.S. Senator won a primary runoff election yesterday, defeating a Tea Party challenger with the apparent help of non-Republican voters. Mississippi has an open primary law allowing any registered voter to vote in a primary regardless of actual party affiliation. Fearing defeat after the challenger's strong showing in the first round, the incumbent appealed to black voters, warning that his challenger was the worst sort of conservative: a barely-veiled racist. Some of the challenger's supporters rose to the bait; fearing vote fraud, they called for poll watchers to be assigned during the runoff. That's supposed to be a red flag for Mississippi blacks, since poll watchers were the people who often kept their parents or grandparents from voting back in the bad old days. Some Democrats had suggested that they should let the TP challenger win since his extremism would be a tougher sell in the general election and the actual Democratic candidate would have a better chance to win. More people apparently felt that Mississippi is too far gone to Republicanism for any Democrat to stand a chance against any Republican, so Democrats may as well take advantage of a law that gives them some role in the choice of a Republican candidate. On some level, this always seems unfair. A political party's candidates should be the choice of its members and no one else. But open primaries might be considered a fair price to pay when a party depends on the state to stage and fund a primary election. A government might also insist on the sort of free-for-all multiparty primary that now takes place in California. To prevent this, parties might revert to the old convention style of nominating candidates, in which primaries choose delegates only and the delegates' names, not the candidates', appear on the primary ballot. In the olden days all it took to be a candidate was to be recognized by a mass meeting somewhere, but back then we didn't have voting machines that have lists of candidates sorted by party affiliation. The idea situation, at least in the abstract, is one in which the Republican primary result doesn't deter the local Tea Party from running their man in the general election, but now they'll have to jump through hoops to get him recognized on the ballot as a third-party candidate if they want to continue their challenge. Better still would be if every state had parties or candidates that actually represented the interests of the working-class majority, so that no one would have to resort to tactical voting to secure the least-worst option that will probably still stink.