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.