Who Should Vote in Party Primaries?

One of the items discussed at the Republican National Committee summer meeting in Chicago last week was the issue of open or closed primary elections. It’s a hot topic this year, largely because of the Senate primary in Mississippi, where incumbent Thad Cochran narrowly defeated challenger Chris McDaniel. Because there is no party registration in Mississippi, Democrats were able to vote in the runoff, and apparently provided the margin of victory for the incumbent.

According to a story published in the Washington Times, Georgia RNC Delegate Linda Herren was one of those pushing to move to a closed primary system, where only voters registered with a party preference would be able to participate in that party’s primary:

Georgia Democrats pretty much know the winners of their primaries before the polls open and are tempted to cross over to help sway the GOP choices.

“Those candidates that choose to run in a Democratic primary against the favored candidate rarely receive any Democratic Party support. Even more rarely do they secure the nomination for their party,” she said. So many Democrats choose to vote in the GOP primaries.

“They generally do this to assure that the weakest Republican candidate will be the one facing their candidate in the general election,” Mrs. Herren said.

Recruiting members of the opposite party to vote in your party’s primary is a bipartisan exercise. In Wisconsin, former governor Tommy Thompson is urging Milwaukee Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary to re-elect the incumbent sheriff.

Within the GOP, some conservatives argue that a closed primary limits the chances of a more liberal candidate being nominated for an office. Other party members see open primaries as an opportunity to attract more independent voters that will be needed to win the general election.

In Georgia, some want the party to nominate its candidates at a convention, rather than a primary. Coweta County GOP Chairman Brant Frost V justifies a possible move to a nominating convention as a way to allow candidates who cannot raise the large sums of money needed to win a primary a chance to make the ballot. A resolution supporting that idea was introduced at the 2013 Georgia Republican convention. It was later voted down at a state committee meeting.

If a change was made to move Georgia to party registration and closed primaries, the decision would be up to the legislature. One important decision would be to define when a person would have to declare his or her party preference. In Ohio, for example, a voter can change party affiliation on election day, which allows spur of the moment crossover voting in the same way an open primary does.

Another option would be to allow independents to choose the party primary they wanted to vote in. That plan, supported in New Mexico by Governor Susana Martinez, would require registered Republicans and Democrats to vote in only their respective primaries.

A reluctance on the part of the RNC to dictate how the state parties should act on the issue along with a lack of consensus at the national level meant no formal recommendation came out of last week’s meeting. Here in Georgia, it’s up to the state party to decide what to support, and then to convince the legislature to change the law. A legislature that is controlled by Republicans, by the way.


  1. I’ll just say I’m not a fan on the idea of eliminating primaries and having a party caucus instead. We want more people participating in the process not less and I don’t see how a caucus increases participation.

    I’m also not sold on closing primaries. If we had more competitive districts it might make sense but is it right to require Democrats in heavily Republican areas to switch parties in order to have a say in who represents them? The same is true for Republicans in heavily Democratic areas.

    I realize the situation in Mississippi is controversial, but it’s also rare. Sure, in a close primary or runoff members of the opposing party can make a difference, but I just can’t imagine crossover voting determines the outcome of all that many primaries. If someone has some Georgia specific data on crossover voting I’d be interesting in seeing it.

    I’m willing to listen to those who want to close Georgia’s primaries but I can’t support it now.

    That’s my $.02.

    • Lawton Sack says:

      I agree with you, Buzz, though I think we are soon to be in the minority in our thinking, if we are not already. If we do go to closed primaries in Georgia, I think that we have to go to non-partisan elections on the local level or at least allow the county to choose. I don’t think a lot people realize how hard (if not impossible) it is to get conservatives elected to Republican positions in these rural counties. If the change is not made, then people are going to have choose between being able to vote on their local officials or be involved in the Party, as I assume that a registered Democrat voter is not going to be allowed to be involved in the Republican Party.

  2. Doug Grammer says:

    I’m a supporter of closed primaries. The purpose of a primary is to select that party’s nominee for November. If a Republican lives in a Democratic county or District, or if a Democrat lives in a Republican area, they still have a say on what happens in selecting that party’s nominee statewide. Form should follow function. If people want to identify with a party and select it’s nominee, great. Technically, that’s what we do now, but we only declare party on primary day. Let’s make it 3 months before unless the voters is turning 18 or moving into the state within 3 months of the primary.

    I’m not a supporter of caucus or convention nominations.

  3. Charlie says:

    I remember when the Dems ran this state, and demographics favored the impending Republican takeover.

    The Dems kept trying to change the rules based on some perceived GOP advantage or influence we had on them. Every time it seemed that Republicans were able to use that new rule to their advantage the first time it was needed.

    Those who forget history….

    • habrams01 says:

      Agree with Buzz and Charlie, the current Republican Party in Georgia, at least when it comes to the State Convention, is one sided and would negate the votes of the moderate and liberty Republicans (yes there are THOSE kind of people in the Republican Party). Amazing that we still operate in this state as if WE ARE DEMOCRATS.

  4. ryanhawk says:

    I’m for an even more “open” primary — a cajun style blanket primary. Put candidates of every political party on the same primary ballot and let the top two advance to a runoff.

    • Will Durant says:

      Two thumbs up from me on this one as well. Cost savings and the taxpayers are not funding who a particular party nominates. Makes so much sense that it would never pass.

    • Doug Deal says:

      This is the method I want and have been pushing for a while. It solves a number of issues and makes every election important, instead of something people go through the motions for.

      Perhaps allow the parties to officially endorse one candidate, but let anyone who can pay the qualifying fee on the ballot for the first round.

      • ryanhawk says:

        I’m with you Doug. If the parties want to trademark their brand and have their own nominating process prior to the blanket primary let them pay for it and make up whatever rules they want.

      • Will Durant says:

        Buzz? Bueller? Guess tomorrow never comes.

        Just sponsor a bill to make this happen and all will be forgiven 😉

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      A lot of people seem to like this idea. Therefore, I bet a state committee will step in at some point and crush it into oblivion. When the GOP has a bad habit of having a handful of people step in and over-ride the will of the party, the debate on closed-versus-open primaries, or conventions, or whatever, seems to be a bit moot.

  5. Ellynn says:

    If Georgia had a closed system, I would not have a choice in all of the county and statehouse level office this year. There were no democates running, and I already knew whoever got the democrate for US GA-1 was not going to beet whoever won the republican primary. As a voter, I should have the chance to pick who I want as member of government, reguardless of party. I don’t mind signing on as either a democrate or a republican to cast a vote, I’ve done it every season inorder to pick a canidate, but I do mind being told I can’t have any voice unless I am a card carring member of a party. That’s the fastest way to tell voter the polical class could care less about the general public, and more about party power.

  6. FranInAtlanta says:

    As controversial as the Mississippi primary was, those who voted for Cochran in the runoff actually preferred him if they were going to have a Republican. And, while I read earlier (early poll showed liberals supporting Broun for Senate and him leading) that Dems were planning to vote for the weakest candidate, we had the two strongest candidates in the runoff.
    I strongly oppose a Republican Convention – but I understand that the old-time Republicans resent not being able to run the party any more.
    Am thinking I like it just as it is now although I would prefer being able to vote in both primaries and think it would be interesting if everyone voted their preference as opposed to trying to screw up one of the parties.

    • Charlie says:

      The vast majority of those pining for a nominating convention are not the old line Republicans, but the young Libertarians that want to do via convention what they’ve been utterly unsuccessful in doing at the ballot box.

      • Jon Richards says:

        I suspect there are also some Tea Party people who would prefer a convention over a primary in order to get a candidate nominated who would be further right of center than what they would consider the more moderate Establishment choice.

      • Doug Deal says:

        Have they been paying attention at those conventions?

        They can’t even muster a 1/3 of the delegates to stop a 2/3 requirement procedural vote. (granted it was an Evans-count, but still.) What makes them think that way would be easier?

        I don’t like closed caucus votes. Should 2,000 wined and dined delegates on both sides determine who the rest of the state gets to vote for in November?

        • Charlie says:

          They will quickly tell you with a straight face “this will take money out of the campaigns…”

          At that point, my eyes have glazed over, I question their sanity/maturity, and I have quit listening at the general level of ignorance required to sincerely make that comment.

          • Ed says:

            “At that point, my eyes have glazed over, I question their sanity/maturity, and I have quit listening at the general level of ignorance required to sincerely make that comment.”

            Hey! That’s what it’s like when you talk to me!

            In fairness: I have nothing to add to the debate

            Partly because… well… I’m not sure where I stand. I hate to sound all milquetoast but… everybody has good arguments.

  7. c_murrayiii says:

    As long as public resources will be used, the primary should be open. If the GOP and the Dems want to assemble ballots, polling stations, register voters by party for the primary, etc. then they can close them. Even reimbursing the costs shouldn’t be enough. Using the Secretary of State’s office imbues an election with the color of governmental authority and therefore, the general public should be allowed an equal chance at participating. I would be for a nominating convention before I’d support a closed primary.

  8. The purpose of a Primary is to allow political parties to select their own nominees…. not to have Democrats help select Republicans or Republicans help select Democrats. Having an open system as we have now defeats that system. Let the state continue to operate and pay for the elections, but at the same time open things up so more political parties can participate. FCYI: Georgia law already allows political parties to select their nominees by convention. If either the Republican or Democrat Parties wish to go that route, they can do it without legislative approval.

    • NoTeabagging says:

      Your comment suggest that people have no right to independent thinking or casting of votes. Only parties. Voters can only cast their vote if they have vowed some fanatical party oath and signed on publicly. Only then can the vote, but only for their chosen party. I find it sad that the entire system relies on lemming mentality to function and individuals are expected to give up individual voting rights and succumb only to group voting. This is not selective to the primary season, but somehow expected to carry over 24/7/365.

    • drjay says:

      i actually agree with this idea in a vacuum–i actually used to say if the parties wanted candidates to do a dance competition and pick the winner that was their prerogative, i have come to believe, however that as long as the ballot access laws are so prohibitive as to be almost be unattainable, leaving running as a dem or gop often the only reasonable option, then the chance to vote for those nominees probably needs to be on the less restrictive scale–if the parties want tighter control over picking their nominees, that change should be tied to loosening ballot access for folks that want to run without getting mixed up in whatever horrible dog and pony show the parties come up with…

      • NoTeabagging says:

        @drjay. Thank You! I see your point and totally agree that GA must change the restrictive policies that keep independents from getting on a ballot. Let the R and D have their Dog and Pony Show.

  9. Joseph says:

    At the State Committee meeting following the 2013 Convention, a modified resolution was presented that would have required the State Party to study a change to Georgia’s Primary system and report back to the State Committee (just a study, heck it could have reported back that what we have now is the best thing going). At the time, the modified resolution was all but laughed off the agenda. – ignorance is bliss, I guess.

    However, now that there are alarm bells ringing because of Mississippi, those that laughed in Milledgeville can’t run fast enough to call for one fix or another.

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