GOP Considers Ending Primary System

This Week’s Courier Herald Column:

The Georgia Republican Party – the party that has everything so long as you count the number of statewide elected offices – is apparently not content.  It seems that some meaningful number of folks within the grassroots of the party would like to change the rules about how candidates are selected, now that super majority status has been achieved.

A resolution  to be presented to the State GOP convention  called for Republicans to ditch the current primary system and allow the delegates at a nominating convention to instead select Republican candidates.  Though not adopted due to lack of a quorum, the idea lingers like dead fish and remains, in many ways, a horrible idea.

Those pushing this concept say it will make campaigns cheaper and thus make it easier to draw a more qualified and higher-quality field of candidates.  And yet, the idea that the same amount of money could be focused on a much smaller, easily approachable set of voters seems to be beyond the imagination of those who believe this.

The goal, as even stated in the resolution, isn’t about saving money or finding better candidates.  It is the latest manifestation by some within the party to purify it by selecting only the candidates that agree with their faction or coalition.  That is all that can and should be concluded by this line:

“WHEREAS, our party risks permanent minority status unless we return to our core values and become a truly representative party.”

So, the rationale is that the party that used a primary system to become one of super-majority status risks losing that same status unless a closed group of insiders and activists can pick the candidates?

And, of course, there is the issue of the delegates believing that they are the sole holder to the title of being the party’s “grassroots”, and are therefore more special than other Republican voters.  That shows up here:

“WHEREAS, the Virginia Plan will greatly increase the influence of the grassroots; grow the Republican Party’s base of volunteers, members, and participants; “

Greatly increase the influence of the grassroots – as defined by those who are convention delegates.  While most would be loath to admit it, convention delegates aren’t just the grassroots, they’re also the embodiment of the party establishment.  The grassroots also include those who work on campaigns – often primary campaigns – for their friends and neighbors who run for office.  This resolution claims to grow the base of volunteers, while specifically cutting down on the number of things they can volunteer for.

Note that the resolution specifically refers to this as “the Virginia Plan”.  While the Georgia GOP was holding its convention, the Virginia GOP was holding their nominating convention – the very model that those pushing this idea hope to accomplish.  While the results won’t be known until November, it appears that the Virginia GOP has selected a slate that reflects the values of a narrow group of insiders rather than the electorate of the state as a whole.

Democrats are already using the result to raise money, calling the Republican slate “extreme”.  The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is circulating a video with clips of E.W. Jackson’s making statements that would likely draw applause from most hard core partisans, but will likely make more centrist and independent voters wince.

Georgia Republicans have arrived at their majority status not because they enforced purity tests or closed the nominating process to a select group of party insiders.  Switching to a closed and exclusive selection process doesn’t open the process to more people, but instead makes the targets of backroom deals in exchange for support much smaller.

The Georgia GOP already runs the risk of being too inwardly focused, as evidenced by virtually all candidates who ran for party positions on platforms promising to increase outreach and participation.  There is no better way to defeat these goals than by sending the message that party insiders know more than rank and file voters.

If this plan is adopted, those rank and file voters have cause to send a message back to Republicans.  One “less important” vote at a time, they can choose the other party -that doesn’t take them for granted.


  1. Doug Deal says:

    Also, it means that a majority at the convention can nominate whatever slate it wants, even against the will of 49.9% of the delegates. In a primary, each individual stands on his or her merits and more than one faction can win various races. Once in control of the party, a single faction can also game the rules with appointments by the chairman until they guarantee control.

    This is a lousy, horrible, terrible, nonsensical and genuinely bad idea.

    • John Walraven says:

      Agreed. Isn’t this the same State GOP that put non-binding ballot questions before the electorate and then used the results to argue to the legislature that the “voters had spoken” and legislation was needed? I guess those voters aren’t that important a few months later?

  2. Napoleon says:

    Right, because we can’t trust the people of the state to choose the nominee. We know people make poor choices and can’t be trusted with such important decisions, at least until November.

    • Doug Grammer says:

      But it is for the children, I mean grassroots!

      Some people may have a different definition of grassroots than I do. I mean people who are active in campaigns and the party, including working in the primary elections.

  3. We all know this proposal isn’t going anywhere… but the real solution is to require party registration in Georgia. Let Dems pick their folks and GOP’ers pick their own… with no crossover shenanigans.

    • Doug Grammer says:

      I’d be Ok with that. I might even push for it. Let’s see if it gains any steam.

    • David C says:

      I always liked the New Hampshire model: Party Registration, but you can be an Indy and vote in either primary if you want. If you’re a middle of the roader, you can take your vote where it matters or where you feel strongest this cycle. But if you care enough to go out and be an R or a D you can’t go make mischief.

    • ricstewart says:

      Sucks for folks who live in areas where there’s usually only one contested primary with no opposition in the general election.

    • Those of us who happen to have a mixed bag of representatives at different levels of government don’t get to choose who represents us for certain offices. For example:

      I live in Powder Springs. My Commissioner at the county level is a Democratic seat. Has been for a while, probably will continue to be. My State House Rep, Senator, and US House Rep are also Democratic, and probably will continue to be for a while. So knowing that a Republican probably won’t win any of those races in the general, the candidate is pretty much picked in the primary.

      However, if I want to have a say for the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Cobb, as well as various other offices (Governor, PSC, SOS, etc.) that will pretty much be Republican offices, then I have to vote in a Republican primary and have no say in my local representation – other than perhaps campaigning for / donating to the better of my choices in hopes that they’ll win. With a closed party system, I would never be allowed to occasionally pull a D ballot in a primary without officially changing my party registration. (Such as a few years ago when I voted for Woody Thompson to help get Annette Kesting out of office. If you have any questions as to motive, search for Annette Kesting / Woody Thompson and the term “voodoo priestess”. Interesting reading, for sure.)

      • Doug Grammer says:

        A primary is for picking the best representative of your party to be on the ballot in November. I used to be in your situation. All of my locally elected officials were of another party. We kept working and now most things are decided in July.

      • Doug Deal says:

        I do not like this proposal, but you do have a say, in the general election. Just because you lose doesn’t mean you didn’t have your say.

        • What if there’s no R opponent? Many times when a district is heavily skewed one way or the other, an opponent from the other party doesn’t even bother running. So for instance, I really didn’t have a say for my county commissioner, because the D candidate was chosen during the primary and there was no opposition in the general.

            • Napoleon says:

              I know David’s area of Cobb. No he shouldn’t. There is a slight difference in the voter make-up of south Cobb versus Walker County. In Walker, I’m sure most of the Democrats voted Republican at the federal level. That’s not happening here.

  4. newby says:

    I agree with Chuck. Make it a closed primary. The idea that a few could choose the candidate in a primary is not a good idea at all. Talk about a very closed primary…..

  5. Mrs. Adam Kornstein says:

    When reviewing Primary concerns, recently several states have gone to a two tiered system. Political consultants hate it, but voters in TX, CA & WA seem to really like it.

        • Doug Deal says:

          Instant runoffs are not without flaws, the most important being confusing voters. People at the top 10% or less of skill, intellect and capability often times do not seem to realize that the system has to be used by everyone, half of which are in the bottom half.

          Instant runoff also suffers from flaws like ranking a candidate higher could cause that candidate to lose due to the order of elimination. In a regular runoff the last round rquires the winner to receive a majority of the votes cast, not a higher preference way down the ballot than another candidate. This great adds to their legitimacy and image a recount of a very close race like the 2000 election in Florida. With 6-8 Presidential candidates on the ballot and the top two within a couple hundred of votes, how does one assure the right sequence of eliminations occurs to crown the rightful winner? (Of course Presidential elections would not come under this, but the point is to illustrate what could happen to any race).

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Bob Dole on Fox News Sunday said this about the party that nominated him for president in 1996:

      “I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says ‘closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas,” Dole said when asked about the state of today’s Republicans.

      Dole also said he doubted he could make it in today’s party. “Reagan couldn’t have made it. Certainly Nixon could not have made it because he had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it.”

  6. Scott65 says:

    I think that the outcome of the VA races will be telling as to whether this is a good idea.

  7. saltycracker says:

    For our full education: List the names of those that proposed/support this resolution.

  8. Cloverhurst says:

    How about a real open primary system- put all the Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians on the same ballot, the top 2 in the “primary” advance to another election.

    If someone wins 50%+1 in the primary- no general election.

    • Doug Grammer says:

      Because the purpose of a primary is to decide who your party’s nominee is going to be.

            • Doug Grammer says:

              Nope, you have it wrong, but I am sure you know better. Primaries are held to place a candidate in nomination. Elections are held between nominees.

              • Napoleon says:

                Primaries are simply means by which a standard bearer for the Party is chosen. If you want to weaken the party as a structure do these two things:

                1. Allow unlimited contributions to candidates; and
                2. Eliminate the party nomination system.

                Currently, there is an instance in GA where all candidates run on a ballot and the top two, regardless of party, advance to a runoff, if needed. That happens each time there is a special election.

                I am really less opposed to a free-for-all style election than I am to convention nominations, but keep in mind, in a 6 person race, it may be the two who manage to get a combined 40% of the vote who advance. Primary voters tend to be a little more educated on the candidates and topics than general election voters, but now it will be the general election voters who eventually decide the top two candidates. That has not always worked out well in LA.

  9. James Fannin says:

    And speaking of changing the rules for the sake of expediency, my favorite moment at the Republican convention in Athens was when folks started to get tired and wanted to go home so the Chair pushed for a standing vote for State Party officers rather than secret ballot to speed things up. Let me get this straight, our Republican Georgia delegation has been fighting tooth and nail against the union’s card check rule in which union members lose the right to a secret ballot and are subject to intimidation but the leaders of the the Republican party of Georgia essentially push for union “card check” rules at their own convention because secret ballots just take too long and intimidation can be a good thing.

    • Doug Grammer says:

      I will help you keep it straight. The chair did not push one way or another. It was the will of the convention. I don’t think that anyone could feel intimidation from any office other than chairman, but that is my opinion.

      • Napoleon says:

        So, in other words, for the offices other than Chairman, the convention voted the same way for the down ballot candidates as they have in every other GAGOP convention that I’ve been to starting 2001? WOW. Scandal.

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