We are 41% of voters. We want open primaries.
I think that we can all agree on one thing: public monies should not be used to discriminate against voters. Nor should public funds should not be used to subsidize the private activities of political parties. The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and should not be abridged by a requirement to join any organization. I’m registered in Florida as an unaffiliated voter As a resident of the state, I also pay for state-sponsored primary elections. Here’s the catch: I cannot vote unless I declare myself a member of a political party on my voter registration form.
I have no interest in joining a partisan franchise- and in these United States, I should not have to. Any eligible voter should be able to research and listen to all candidates for a public office and decide for whom they vote. I would prefer there be no primaries and that if there are, that all candidates for all offices appear on the same ballot. No exclusive Democrat, Republican, or third or fourth party ballots.
Partisanship is deeply hardwired into our political system. Polls show that independents make up 41% of the electorate, and the number of Americans identifying as independent of a political party is now larger than that of Democrats or Republicans. But unaffiliated voters are relegated to second-class status by being barred from voting in closed primaries. Therefore, I am also involved in the effort to establish open primaries or top-two primaries in Florida. More on that later.
This disconnect between the growing independence of the citizenry and the highly partisan nature of our governing process is creating an unhealthy situation for our democracy. But even if, unlike me, you do identify with a particular political faction, there are important reasons to get on board with open primaries.
First, taxpayers, including those with no party affiliation, are expected to finance close primaries despite being excluded from participating in them because we do not “belong to a party.” To me, it is a form of taxation without representation.
Second, some elections are so gerrymandered that winning the primary is tantamount to winning the general election. In my home state of Florida, 55 of 120 seats in the State House, or 46%, were contested by just one party in the general election in 2016. Win the primary, and you are in. The general election, then, serves no real purpose, and non-affiliated voters get no choice.
Consider this: if all voters vote in every election for public office, voters will tend to want to elect in the primary the very best candidates in all parties so that they have a better shot at quality, not mediocrity. Additionally, a candidate campaigning with the entire electorate, not just her party voters, would be far more attractive to voters.
Another advantage of open primaries is that they erase the “stigma” felt by many who resent being forced into labels such as "Republican", "Democrat", "Libertarian", etc. It is liberating to be true to self and not coerced to join a political party support a candidate of which one does not agree with completely.
States such as California, Nebraska, Washington, and Louisiana are close to adopting “top two” open primaries where all voters are allowed to participate and choose a candidate regardless of party affiliation. Here's how it works: the two candidates who amass the most votes in the primary then go onto to compete head-to-head in the general election. As you may expect, this kind of reform has been aggressively opposed by the political parties who want desperately to maintain their control over how elections are conducted.
But nothing in this movement threatens private political parties: they can still have their private clubs, support candidates of their choosing, and raise funds for political capital. If they want to have conventions or other methods to chose their standard bearer, let them pay for it; not the taxpayer.
Florida Fair and Open Primaries.org, of which I worked as a spokesperson for, supports Top Two Open Primaries as an important step towards transforming our political process and moving forward as a state and as a nation. The quest for public offices should not be private party affairs. They should be open fully to all legal voters.
Independents feel structural reforms that lessen the power of partisanship are urgently needed in order that we may find genuine solutions to the problems we face. The time is now!