With the arrival of the primary election season a few weeks ago, the issue is often raised, “Why can’t I vote for whomever I want, instead of only for members of my own party?”
On the face of it, that’s a reasonable question. Americans prize few rights as dearly as they do the right to vote.
But the answer lies in the very purpose of political primaries.
In primary elections in most states, including Florida, each party selects its own candidates. This is called a closed primary.
In general elections, all voters get to choose from among candidates from all parties, as well as any starry-eyed optimists who run without party affiliation.
Ideally, each party should nominate its best qualified candidate; in actuality, especially in presidential primaries, each party generally nominates the candidate it believes is most likely to win, no matter how well or poorly qualified.
In open primary states, voters in primary elections may vote for candidates from either party. This leads to a circumstance in which a few weeks ago President Trump — a Republican whose nomination for re-election is a foregone conclusion — openly urged Republicans to vote for the least qualified Democratic nominee.
This is a perversion of the political process, pure and simple. It serves as an eloquent example of why parties should choose their own candidates.
I have compared the open primary election system to allowing FSU to choose Florida’s quarterback, and Florida to choose FSU’s quarterback. It stands to reason that neither team would choose to face the strongest candidate from the opponents’ team.
My contemporaries and I can remember when virtually all candidates on the ballot in Florida were Democrats. A voter who registered as either a Republican or an Independent was essentially giving up his right to vote. The winner of the Democratic primary was virtually certain of success in the general election, usually without even token opposition.
I clearly remember the election — probably in the 1970s — when the Republican Party in Polk County made a concerted effort to enter a Republican in every county race on the ballot. (I assume the same took place in other counties.)
None of them had more than a theoretical chance at winning, but it was the beginning of a bona fide two-party system.
Today, the situation is largely reversed, with Republican candidates almost always having the inside track.
Speaking for myself, I registered as a Democrat in the days of the “solid Democratic South.”
Then came a year when I didn’t see a single Democratic candidate on the primary ballot whom I wanted to vote for, but I strongly supported a young Republican newcomer named Adam Putnam.
I switched my registration to Republican so I could vote for him in the primary. He won that election, as he did several elections to follow. He would be our governor today if the president hadn’t endorsed one of his primary election opponents.
In the 2016 general election, for the first time, I declined to say who got my vote for president, since I considered that each party had nominated its least qualified candidate.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He considers himself neither a Democrat nor a Republican in the traditional sense; he has contributed to candidates from both parties, but never to a party organization. And he has long said that Adam Putnam would make a great President of the United States. He still believes that.)