As expected, the Montana Republican Party endorsed the idea of closed primaries in Montana elections. Terrified by the prospect of moderate voters diluting the purity of their red meat and guns club, the party voted to close out independent voters from primaries.
It’s a terrible idea, not only for Montana elections, but for the GOP itself.
1. They will further polarize our political system.
The worst impact of implementing a closed primary system is that it will further polarize our political system. Mark Siegel writes of closed primaries, a system he once endorsed, “[a]nd if closed primaries reflect the views of the people who represent the breadth of the party, then there is nothing wrong with the contests. But so far closed primaries have led to candidates catering to extreme views — and the red meat that is so tasty to primary voters has not proved digestible in general election contests. It would not take much for registered party members and ideological moderates who are registered to vote to have the ability to choose between reasonable people who seek to be legislators, not gladiators.”
And that, of course, is what the reactionary wing of the Republican party wants: a closed off system that only elects the most conservative members of an increasingly conservative party. Afraid that a Republican who believes that immigrants are human beings or that we shouldn’t demonize the poor might win a primary election, the Essman faction of the Republican Party wants to close off votes to people who share their retrograde views—and make it more difficult for moderates to influence elections.
2. They will drive down turnout.
Montana voters are an independent lot, which explains why, in recent years, we’ve elected Democratic governors and senators at the same time we’ve elected Republican House members and legislators. The state is hardly Utah or Idaho, but instead is a competitive state for both parties, largely because so many Montana voters identify themselves as independents. In most polling, well over a third of Montana voters identify as “independent,” which means they will be excluded from voting in primary elections unless they choose to register with a party.
Open primaries encourage voting. They encourage independents voting. Most dangerously of all for Republicans, they encourage independent-thinking voters to weigh the policies of two candidates before making a decision.
3. They violate privacy
Of late, and very late indeed, the Montana Republican Party has positioned itself as a champion of privacy—for straight men, anyway, and this proposal would violate that privacy. It’s certainly interesting that a party so distrustful of its government would endorse requiring voters to identify their political party as a matter of public record to have the right to vote.
Idaho offers an instructive example of just how public that information will be:
“There will be a record of who’s a registered democrat and who’s a registered Republican,” said Idaho’s Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.After the primary is over, who voted on what ballot can be made public through an open public records request out of the Secretary of State’s office or your county clerk’s office. “It’s not going to be difficult for people to get a copy of (it), to get a list,” said Ysursa.
Voters should be able to exercise the franchise without having to publicly declare a party affiliation. That Republicans would threaten that privacy demonstrates their newfound commitment to privacy doesn’t even extend to the cornerstone of our democratic system.
4. The idea of cross-over Democrats is a myth.
Republicans who lost elections this spring were quick to blame Democratic crossover votes, despite evidence that was shaky at best. Republicans cited the influence of Eric Feaver, the head of the MEA, calling on members to vote for certain Republicans in legislative races, as evidence of a grand Democratic conspiracy.
The claim is nonsense. Feaver and the MEA have every right to endorse candidates who have records or rhetoric supportive of public education, and if anything, the MEA’s endorsements reminded a few voters about those positions. Even more importantly, what Republicans may not realize, given their non-stop demonization of public education, is that a lot of teachers are Republicans. I realize that the GOP is doing everything it can to drive teachers from their party, but there are plenty of Republican teachers who vote in primaries.
The truth is far simpler: some Republicans running in primaries were simply too much for even Republican voters to stomach.
5. It will allow the Montana GOP to give itself another self-inflicted wound.
The call for closed primaries should be seen for what it is: the effort of the reactionary wing of the Republican Party to use the election system to purify its party of moderates, disenfranchising voters along the way. Republican Representative Jeff Wellborn argued that the proposal was a “minority maker,” and he’s absolutely right: the call for closed primaries alone sends a signal that the Republican Party’s tent is shrinking precisely as more voters are choosing to identify as independents.
Closing off primaries to only the chosen Republican few also serves the purpose of generating general election candidates who are so out of the mainstream that heavily-leaning Republican districts could suddenly become competitive.
The best thing about this proposal from a Democratic standpoint is that it’s just as damaging to the Republican Party as a whole as it beneficial to incredibly conservative individual Republican candidates.
It’s a terrible idea, yet another churned out from the terrible idea factory that is the current Montana GOP.