Over the course of my life, I’ve belonged to many organizations, and held offices in a number of them. When I was 15, I was elected to the board of directors for my church (no, I didn’t seek it), and at 16 I was a delegate to the state convention. I’ve been on committees, boards, and even President of hobby clubs, professional organizations, and social groups. I’ve been “just a member” of many of them, and happy to do just that. But the one thing they all had in common was that you had to be a member to have any say in what the organization did, and who they elected. It’s a simple concept, and one that apparently is lost on a number of people these days.
The reason I say that is because this year, independents are yelling about not being allowed to vote in closed primaries. Since I wrote that post, I learned that New York has had closed primaries (and primaries at all) since 1912. Yes, for over a century it’s been that way. Why hasn’t it changed much? Josh Marshall over at TPM put it well:
As I wrote last week, the voting system in New York State is simply terrible. It’s generally restrictive. And we’ve introduced none of the reforms of the last decade or two which are designed to make voting more accessible for occasional voters or people whose work or family responsibilities make voting difficult. I’m talking here about things like early voting, mail in voting, same day registration, etc. The reason is simple: no one cares. And by no one, I mean no organized interest is interested in changing it.
That’s the voting registration rules, which led to the screams (and lawsuits) about voter roll purges, and whether you’re registered or not. Absolutely, those things can be addressed, and should be. But to do that? You have to vote. But that still doesn’t address the screams about closed primaries.
As I said previously, I have no sympathy for those who are now complaining that independents can’t vote in primaries. The rules have been in place for a century, and it’s not like any of this should have been news. My response is “Where were you before this?” Even more, I disagree with the very notion that “independent voters” (who constitute 27% of New York’s registered voters) should be allowed to decide whom a party will select. I think all primaries should be closed. A primary is not a general election, it’s a party’s means of determining which candidate will be selected to run on that party’s line in the general election. That means “who the party members want,” not “what the general electorate thinks.” The historical truth is that primaries have only had the impact they’ve had since the late 60’s. Up until that point, it was much more a “general sentiment” poll of the party members, and the actual selection was the left to the proverbial “smoke filled room.”
What I also find hypocritical are the complaints coming out of the Sanders campaign. Let’s look back at it, shall we? Most of his victories have come from caucuses. The reason so many states have gone to them is simple: Money. You see, when you run a caucus, the parties pay for it. When you run a primary, the state pays for it. If you want to complain about restrictive rules, undemocratic selections, well… those are the caucuses. But those were fine?
As I said in the introduction, I’ve belonged to a lot of organizations in my life, and they all required you to be a member to have “a say” in what that organization did. Political parties are no different. They’re actually the easiest and cheapest organizations to join. You check a box when you register to vote, and you’re a member. You get to decide which party most fits your beliefs, and that’s the box you check. New York has a large number of parties you can join, and they’re always happy to have people. You’re not even required to vote for that party in any election. But here’s the thing: If you checked the “No party” box, what you’re really saying that no party fits your beliefs. You may have your own justifications, but that is what it comes down to. In that case, why would you think any party should give you a say in who they’ll run? You see, membership has its privileges, and if you wanted the privilege, you should have joined. It’s easy. Otherwise, you made your decision, and you have no reason to complain.