A few months before each primary election, articles begin to appear claiming that independents can vote in the upcoming major party primaries. Voters only need to submit a form requesting a partisan ballot, or in some cases, choose a partisan ballot on election day. These are often claimed to be “hybrid,” “semi-open,” or “semi-closed” primaries. In one case, the author claims the primary is “open.” The posts excerpted below are great examples:
“Hey, Arizona Independents! You can vote in the primary
There’s a misunderstanding when it comes to Independents voting in Arizona primaries, but it’s quite simple: You’ll just need to request a ballot.”
“Ohio utilizes an open primary system. In an open primary system, a voter does not have to register with a political party beforehand in order to vote in that party’s primary. In Ohio, voters select their preferred party primary ballots at their polling places on Election Day.”
Are these claims true? Can Independents vote in closed party primaries? Does Ohio conduct open primaries? The short, blunt answer is – no – because, allowing voters simpler options to declare their affiliation (join a major party), is not equivalent to an open primary. Take a look at a typical definition found on the web:
“closed primary. A type of direct primary limited to registered party members, who must declare their party affiliation in order to vote.”
Now take a look at a similar but much more accurate definition of a closed primary. Only one word is different – can you spot it?
“closed primary. A type of direct primary limited to affiliated party members, who must declare their party affiliation in order to vote.”
Traditionally, party members declared their affiliation at the time of registration. More recently, many states have adopted “Relaxed Registration Requirements” (3R). In a 3R closed primary state, voters may declare their party affiliation by requesting a partisan ballot, or in some cases by simply choosing a partisan ballot on election day.”
So why the deception and false claims? The answer is obvious – “necessity.” In a closed primary state (traditional or 3R) all unaffiliated voters are excluded. Voter exclusion wasn’t a big issue in the past, but as the number of Independent voters has grown, the issue has grown with them. In the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential primary, voter exclusion has the potential to eclipse all other issues. The press may not report on it – but Independent voters will be thinking about it. Major party supporters are desperate to claim that election reform isn’t needed because we already have free elections – we don’t.
The state of Oregon is one of the leaders in voter exclusion. As of February 2019, (according to official published reports) Oregon had over 2.7 million registered voters. Nearly 1.1 million (40%) of these voters aren’t affiliated with either major party. By law, all 1.1 million of these voters will receive a blank ballot for the office of U.S. President in the 2020 primary election.
You can’t force voters to join a party as a precondition to full voting rights, and you can’t disenfranchise that many voters and expect no pushback. For the major parties, the issue of voter exclusion is a train wreck in slow motion. They can see it coming, but they can’t stop it – there’s too much momentum. By 2028, the number of unaffiliated Oregon voters receiving blank presidential primary ballots could easily be over 50%.
Shown below is an alternative definition for the terms “semi-open” and “semi-closed” primary:
“semi-open primary, semi-closed primary. Inaccurate, misleading terms referring to a closed primary with relaxed registration requirements. (3R closed primary) All unaffiliated voters and candidates are excluded – but voters may declare their party affiliation and join a major party by means other than registration. These terms are typically used in conjunction with a false claim that Independents can vote in a closed primary.
Most people think that election reform involves collecting signatures for an initiative petition or donating money on some election reform website. In this particular case, we’re fighting a propaganda battle, and there are much simpler ways to participate. When you see an article or post on the web claiming that Independents can vote in a closed primary – post a comment or reply. It only takes a few minutes and costs nothing.
There’s no need to be nasty or vulgar. Politely point out that allowing voters the opportunity to join a major party – by means other than voter registration – is not the same thing as an open primary. Most of the newspapers and tv stations that have been making these claims actually support election reform – they’ve just been duped into believing the partisan propaganda.
Over a period of time, one-by-one, reporters and media outlets will stop repeating the false claims of a semi-open/semi-closed primary. Eventually, Google and other search engines will modify their “structured snippets” with more accurate definitions for a “closed primary”. The ultimate goal here, is to stop Democratic and Republican candidates from claiming they support election reform – when they really don’t.
In Oregon and many other states, the “Secretary of State” is the chief elections officer, and every four years there are several partisan candidates campaigning for election to this office. Invariably, they all claim to support efforts to “open” the primary election to Independent voters. If you see a candidate making claims like this – send them an email, or post a comment on their website. For even more impact, send an email to their opponents as well.
“Independents have a right to participate in selecting the top candidates for the general election ballot – but – participating in a closed primary to select the top candidate to represent a political party is not the same thing. If Independents supported the platform and agenda of the existing major political parties, they would not have registered as an Independent in the first place.”
Paul Damian Wells 8/1/2019
To a novice activist, this might not appear to be much of a battle. Why bother? Because the issue of voter exclusion is exploding. If it’s not an overriding concern in the 2020 presidential primary – it will be by 2024, 2028, 2032,… The issue of voter exclusion is creating the momentum needed to drive election reform. If we deny Republicans and Democrats the ability to claim that free elections already exist – how can they continue to defend closed primaries?
Update on the Propaganda Battle
This article was originally posted on 3/30/2019. At that time, the definition of a “closed primary” at http://www.dictionary.com was exactly as it is shown above. It was even used by google in a structured snippet for “closed primary”. At some point prior to August of 2019 it was altered. Check out the new wording at https://www.dictionary.com/browse/closed-primary . The web page about voting in Ohio was also altered at some point. Check out the new web page at https://ballotpedia.org/Voting_in_Ohio. There really is broad support for election reform, but Independents still need to stand up for themselves and push back on false partisan propaganda.
The Hybrid Primary – Independents really do vote in Presidential Primaries
Within 20 years, Independents will finally secure the right to participate in all stages of our elections, and the two major parties will no longer have a monopoly on the U.S. presidential race. Nonetheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean abolishing major party primaries altogether. Political parties are a necessary part of the political process – we can’t get anything done without them. Please read the post “Anti-Propaganda 2040: A twenty-year plan for free presidential elections.” for more information on how all this fits together.