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To let independents into party primaries would spoil choice


There is a reason the Los Angeles Dodgers don’t get to pick the starting pitchers for the Arizona Diamondbacks when they play against them. If you want to pick the D-Backs starting pitcher, you need to play for the D-Backs. I think most rational people would agree. The question is: do they agree when it comes to picking presidential nominees?

A recent op-ed by Al Bell (Everyone should have a vote in the presidential preference election) lays out a self-contradicting argument for why people who are not a part of any political party ought to have the same say as to the identity of that party’s nominee for president as members of the political party. Mr. Bell describes himself as “a leader in the independent voter movement in Arizona,” and he really wants voters who aren’t Republicans to pick the Republican nominee and voters who aren’t Democrats to pick the Democrat nominee. Naturally, his idea is wrapped in the flag and what it means to be a great American.

Except it’s a terrible idea.

Constantin Querard

Constantin Querard

The Republican and Democratic parties are different. Very different. They hold wildly divergent positions on profound issues and, when left to their own process, they generally produce candidates who offer the voters two very different directions for the country (or state or locality) to choose from. There are also myriad other party nominees (Libertarian, Green, etc.) and independent candidates as well who show up at election time, each offering their own platform. The voters get to choose from all of these options.

“Everyone should have a say” sounds great as an ideal (and I completely agree for general elections), except even Mr. Bell has not suggested that Republicans should be allowed to pick the Democratic nominee or that Democrats should be allowed to pick the Republican nominee. I assume it is because he knows the opportunity for gamesmanship or sabotage would be too great. We have plenty of historical examples of states – where independent voters are allowed to participate in presidential primary elections – being the scenes of organized efforts to get voters who are hostile to the GOP to vote for the least electable GOP candidate and vice versa with the Democrats. Those are cases of independent voters actively working to ensure the country the worst possible choices in the general election – a far cry from Bell’s claim that their involvement would somehow produce improvements. Bell himself accidentally acknowledges this when he writes, “Some independents are clearly anti-party,” so why would the parties invite anti-party voters into their selection process?

It is also logical that if the voter pools for both the Democratic and Republican primaries become so ideologically blended that they are mere reflections of each other, the nominees chosen will be equally similar, offering the nation not a choice, but an echo. That would also serve the nation poorly. Blend the primaries together enough and why bother having a primary at all? Mr. Bell will eventually have us in something akin to a two-round general election.

In Arizona, independents are allowed to vote in legislative primaries, and many do. Come the general election many voters complain that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and Republicans they get to choose from. That’s not a complaint you heard for Bush v Kerry, Obama v Romney, or Trump v Clinton. Part of the reason is that the party primary process is an audition for who best can champion the values of a political party and at the presidential level it is still dominated by closed primaries.

As I mentioned before, Mr. Bell doesn’t think Republicans should get to vote in Democratic primaries and vice-versa, so he doesn’t really want “everyone” to have a say. He just wants to be an independent voter so that he can keep a distance from the organized parties, while helping himself to all of the benefits of membership in those parties. That is neither patriotic nor consistent with any founding ideals.

Constantin Querard is founder and president of Grassroots Partners.


  1. If Democrats and Republicans were paying for their own primary elections, they would have every right to say that nobody else should have the right to vote in their party primary elections. But since their primary elections are paid for by public revenues, all people who pay taxes should be voting in those elections, otherwise Republicans and Democrats are national socialist parties that have an exclusive right to participate in government, like certain European political parties have been in European governments. If the truth be known those certain European political parties emulated something that originated in America, which was elections in which only members of certain self-created societies could vote. Primary elections were invented in America to stop the Populist movement because Republican leaders wanted to stop Populism, and Democrat leaders wanted to have someone other than populist William Jennings Bryan as their candidate for President.

  2. Dennis Flaherty

    Constantin Querard uses a contrived baseball analogy as he attempts to make a case for maintaining closed presidential preference elections (PPEs). He adds a bandwagon appeal, thinking most rational people would agree (with him). But his pitch is a screwball that misses the plate. Querard makes clear he prefers closed PPEs because the “wildly divergent positions” of the Republican and Democratic parties offer voters a sharp contrast of choices between the two parties. Conversely, open PPEs, with blended ideologies, tend to narrow the political divide between the parties. From the electorate’s point of view, which is more likely to foster compromise and bipartisan solutions?

    Querard cites a number of points from Al Bell’s op-ed (June 10, 2019). Bell, a former Navy pilot, writes about the US Constitution, the Founding Fathers and our “Great American Experiment.” Querard characterizes Bell’s ideas as “wrapped in the flag and what it means to be a great American.” By any measure, Querard’s comment should be a compliment. But it’s not. While mocking Bell, Querard avoids a key issue. In presidential preference elections, Independents are barred from voting even as the parties take our tax dollars to pay for them. Everybody pays, but only Republicans or Democrats play. If Querard wants a private election for members only, his party certainly could do that…just do it without our our tax dollars.

  3. Public financed party primaries did not exist until Republicans thought of them in the early 1900’s, and Democrats in Congress went along with them because the Populist movement had given them the same losing candidate, William Jennings Bryan, in multiple elections. By having party primaries, they were able to dump Bryan and run eastern establishment candidate Woodrow Wilson in 1912. But the concept of state financed parties really took off in Europe, starting with the Communists in Russia, the Fascists in Italy, and the Nazis in Germany.
    If independent voters are to ever overcome state sponsored parties in the United States, they will have to forget about party primaries and run an independent candidate who can defeat party candidates in the general election. That may not be too far off as American party candidates become more and more direct in their emulation of European political parties. A good independent candidate for President could win in the 2020 election.

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