Membership Has Its Privileges

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.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Membership Has Its Privileges

  1. i entirely agree. Primaries should be closed and caucuses gotten rid of. Further, I think that there should be a good bit of lead time to switch party affiliations, so last minute switches can’t help one group of party supporters or independent mess with the other party’s nomination process. Michael Moore was tweeting about this and I wondered if he allowed people to wander in off the street and make directorial decisions for him.

    • Heck, Michael Moore doesn’t even hire union crews for his films. I think of you ask around, there’s a lot of people who think the registration process could be better, and yes, the “once a year” deadline is excessive. The original purpose was to prevent “poaching,” back in the really bad days, when parties were rather notorious for shelling out money for people to switch parties or show up at the polls.

  2. Ahenobarbus458

    Some suggestions for friends of Bernie. ( Years ago, I was active in the county Democratic organization)
    If this Sanders business is going to get anywhere longer term, It will:

    Have to get organized, disciplined, persistent.
    Start at the local level – “think globally, act locally”.
    Do serious work on local problems; thereby forging working relationships with people.
    Develop a reputation for work, reliability and integrity.
    Work up to the county and state level.
    Start networks ( not just on line!!) and develop relationships with other people and other organizations.
    That includes Democrats and the Democratic Party.

    Think policy – not just buzz words. Do the mental work needed to work up real policy ideas.
    Politics is done in a political organization by politicians. become relaible in a political organization; earn your spurs.

    Get elected to office and start to climb the greasy pole.

    • Exactly. I learned all that years ago, at the hands of one of the most politically influential person I’ve ever met. She wasn’t “a name,” she wasn’t a big donor, didn’t write opinion columns or be on television panels, and lived in a very rural, sparsely populated county. But after years of doing all those things, there wasn’t a single politician in this state who would not personally return her calls, if they weren’t calling her first.

      • Ahenobarbus458

        Friends of Bernie have to do that.
        I hope that a few – 1% would be most excellent – will do all that.

  3. YourMom

    The mess made by caucus in Idaho is this: The Democrats, believing they can attract new party members, leave their caucus open to independents. Anyone can participate and they do not even have to be registered to vote. This year, the Rs held an actual primary about 2 weeks prior to the D caucus. On caucus night , the lines were enormous in the largest county with the most delegates at stake. Sanders’ supporters swamped the HRC supporters. There were hundreds or more who reported driving past the venue, seeing the lines and going home. Many more said they could not find child care, had elderly parents to care for or had work or travel reasons for not participating. If you’re a student registered there and attending school out of state, you’re out of luck. Here’s where it gets worse: the overwhelming number of participants on the Sanders side means his delegates are the majority at the party’s state convention. Still not a problem until you consider that the party was handed lists of “elected delegates” with no last names or contact information. A month later, the party is still trying to identify and locate these “delegates.” On top of that, no one at the party has assured party members they’ve audited the caucus lists to ensure Rs who voted in the R primary didn’t slither into our caucus to do a little RF action. We cannot be certain the eager youth movement didn’t add a few hundred 15 year olds to the caucus because no registration was required to participate and we Dems don’t support showing ID to vote. In other words, there was every opportunity to game the system. The remaining issue is whether there will be a shortage of delegates at the state convention if the party cannot find those “delegates”…and whether they were actual residents of the state at all. Verification would be nice. The party’s position is that the Dems are such a beleaguered minority, they’re trying to attract new people. They are straining to make the process open. All good-but what if the flood of newcomers is all about destroying the party?

  4. That’s a good observation, Norbrook. “I don’t like any of the above but I want to have a say in their decisions” makes little sense at that level.