It's Not My Party

Mark writes in with concern that my condemnation of Washington’s late blanket primary implies an endorsement of state-funding of private elections.  Mark’s point is well-taken; one interpretation of the lamentations over the demise of the blanket primary is that since the public pays for primary elections, the public ought to decide how they’re run.  Unfortunately for proponents of this argument, primaries are a seller’s market, and the parties form a cartel.

What do the parties get out of primary elections?  The parties have determined (correctly or not) that the polling data gained through publicly-funded primaries is worth the damage inflicted by non-registered voters interfering with the nomination.  If it weren’t for the polling data—the "trial run"—the parties would much prefer to handle nominations internally, at party conventions where only active party members would have a voice.

What do voters get out of primary elections?  Well, under the rules of yesterday’s primary, Washington voters got to choose among candidates for a single party, and (unlike in other states) they did so anonymously and they can effortlessly change parties in the next election.  Did you get your money’s worth?

The bottom line regarding primary elections, in Washington and elsewhere, is that they are indulgences voluntarily extended to the public by the parties on the parties’ terms and subject to withdrawal at any time.  Washington’s blanket primary was a local anomaly that voters came to regard as an entitlement, but the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (and Article I of the Washington Constitution, by the way) guarantees the right to freedom of assembly, and that includes the freedom of parties to control how their candidates get nominated.

A mature electorate would refuse to pay for primary elections on the grounds that they are private affairs.  For better or worse, we seem to enjoy the conceit of participation too much to renounce it.  As little as I think of the blanket primary, it might seem surprising that I am encouraging everyone to vote for Initiative 872, which would establish a "top-two" primary in which the top two finishers, regardless of party, would advance to the general election.  I support I-872 because I believe the parties when they threaten to pull out of primary elections altogether if I-872 passes.

1 comment:

  1. Yah, I sure over-estimated the state parties' backbone on this one.