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Open primaries are nuts

December 3, 2018

Every year the subject of open versus closed primary elections comes up, and every year I am bewildered beyond comprehension that there is such mind-numbing ignorance concerning the only — yes, the only — purpose for primary elections. The one and only purpose of a primary is for the members of a political party — a private club — to select the candidates of their party to represent that party in a general election. A primary is not a general election.

For the record, I say right off that how primaries are financed is a valid issue and one that deserves discussion and debate and, likely, alteration. But this issue must not be conflated with the reason that primary elections exist. To conflate these issues is to indulge in illogical forensics. The two issues have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and one cannot sanely be used to affect the other. To do so is to indulge in a false, specious interdependence.

It is a national disgrace that civics is not taught in our society and that, therefore, so many people are so ignorant regarding our political processes. I worked for the New York Board of Elections (New York has closed primaries) for 18 years, and I was appalled constantly by how many people told me that they wanted to register as independent because they wanted to be free to vote for whomever they wanted to in the general election. Such ignorance is terrifying. It makes me dizzy. I have to go outside and reassure myself that the sky is not green and the grass is not blue.

I am a registered Democrat. I cannot tolerate someone who is not willing to register as a Democrat telling me who will represent my party in a general election. To allow this would be nonsensical beyond any kind of reasoning. If a friend of mine who is a member of the Elks Club runs for president of that club, I cannot — as a nonmember — simply go and vote for him. If I tried to do this, I would be laughed at and thought to be a candidate for a rubber room. This outrageous absurdity should be obvious and clear to any and every advocate of open primaries.

In 2008, then-Arizona Sen. John McCain became the Republican candidate for president without having won a single Republican primary. He became the candidate because he won so many open primaries. Thus, he actually represented thousands of self-proclaimed independents, not Republicans. This is ridiculous. Why should people who are not willing to register as Republicans (or Democrats) be able to dictate to the Republican (or Democratic) Party who will represent the Republican (or Democratic) Party? To allow this is beyond silly, it is outrageous.

If our state moves to open primaries, I will re-register as an independent so that I can vote in the Republican primary for whom I believe to be the weakest candidate of the Republican Party, the Republican most likely to lose to the Democrat in the general election. And I would ask my Democratic colleagues and friends to do the same.

I know that common sense is not so common but, please, let us not lose every grain of reality and sense. When I moved to New Mexico more than 20 years ago, I was very glad to find that we have closed — i.e., rational — primaries. Please, let us not surrender to unmitigated nonsense and, thereby, totally obliterate the very purpose and function of primary elections.

Richard Block is one of the founders of KSFR — Santa Fe Public Radio — and he is a longtime resident of Santa Fe.

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