'Semi-closed' Primary Tuesday 2014

Today is primary Tuesday in Iowa, and also a very rare occurrence in my adult life: an Election Day when I do not vote. As a registered Green, I have no primary races and do not feel like registering as a blue or red Republicrat to vote in their primaries.

Registered as a “Decline to State” voter in California, I was free to vote in whomever’s primary I wanted — until 2008, when the Republicans closed their primary. Does Iowa have an open primary system? Not really. Iowa has what is classified on Wikipedia as a “semi-closed” primary system. According to the Secretary of State’s website, “voters must be registered with the political party whose caucus or primary they wish to participate in. Voters have the right to change their affiliation and then participate in the caucus or primary election on the day those events are being held.” (The Johnson County Auditor’s website puts it like this: “You can walk IN as an independent, but you can’t walk OUT as an independent. You have to declare affiliation as a Democrat or Republican before you vote.”) So, like I said, I would need to switch parties to vote in a primary. And despite how debasing it would be for me to register as a Republicrat, I have thought about doing it.

In the Little Village’s American Reason column back in November, Vik Patel offered this proposal to incentivize primary voting and help shape the ballot for general elections:

If you’re a person who votes in primaries and caucuses, then bring along some of your friends and neighbors next time. And if you’re a person who has thought about voting in a primary but hesitates because you’re fed up with the two parties (which is a discussion that will likely fill another column), just go and vote anyway! Your reasonable voice will carry more weight in a primary than it would in any other venue. Your community needs you.

That’s an idea I can get behind. Go and vote anyway, and vote for people you would want to vote for in the general election. Don’t let Republicrats dictate the names printed on the November ballot. Throw your elbows around and clear the lane! Inject a little reason in the freak show that can sometimes be a primary race and ensure the political parties are listening to you, too, and not just their lunatic fringe of Election Day reliables.

That is what appeals to me about switching parties to vote in a primary: having my voice heard by the major political parties and not being dismissed as a third party weirdo. Frankly, the reason I am a third party weirdo is because the Republicrats do not nominate anybody that I find appealing or potentially effective and useful, so I may as well do it myself.

That, it seems, is a major crux of the primary election system, and perhaps our democracy and partisan politics in general: independent voters are marginalized because party members (the small percentage that actually vote in primaries) dictate which candidates make it on the general election ballot. Independent voters are mostly excluded from the early stages of the election process. They do not even mean anything to Greens until the general election. (Voting in the party’s 2012 presidential primary was limited to party members.) According to the Secretary of State’s website, as of yesterday there are 705,198 active “No Party” voters. None of them can vote in today’s primaries as an independent. (The SoS lists “active” and “inactive” numbers, and I am really not sure what “inactive” means. Perhaps those that have not voted recently?) Kind of sad, huh? Over one-third of the state’s “active” registered voters (36.7 percent) are shut out of the process unless they switch affiliations.

I think I will be sitting on the sidelines this time. None of the contested races or their candidates really appeal to me, but a few are interesting from afar. It will be interesting to see if any of the Republican US Senate-hopefuls garner 35 percent of the vote to capture the nomination. The Democratic primary for Johnson County Attorney is intriguing as well.

Check out Bobblehead’s primary day post on his new blog, The Daily Quixotry, for primary updates and results. I will probably return tomorrow with a recap and my thoughts, especially about the county attorney race.

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