Hot topic for election reform: Open versus closed primaries

By “Lucy Twinkle”

SC is now one of the first primary states in the nation. Let’s clean up our act and close our primaries

Last summer a group from SC Safe Elections met with some SC legislators to talk about election reform. We asked them this question: “What is THE MOST IMPORTANT election reform measure you’d like to see passed?
Their Answer: “Close our primaries.”

Why is this so important?
Because you can use open primaries to throw a primary election. Let me explain…

What are “open” versus “closed” primaries?
Right now, South Carolina has open primaries. An open primary is any primary election where a voter does not have to declare a specific party affiliation in order to vote in the primary. That means Democrats can vote in a Republican primary and Republicans can vote in a Democratic primary. A closed primary is one in which a voter can only vote in the primary with which he or she is registered/affiliated.

The problem with open primaries is that they can lead to dilution of the people’s vote and possible manipulation of outcome. Let me break that down. For example, let’s say you are a registered Democrat. Under an open primary system, you and your friends can go out to vote against the most viable Republican candidate in an effort to throw the primary election to the less viable candidate. The same thing would hold for Republicans. Under an open primary system, as a registered
Republican, you and your friends could go out to vote for the weakest Democratic candidate in order to increase the chances of this candidate winning the primary, thus improving the chances of the Republican candidate winning in the general election. This is particularly impactful when primary turnout is low–last year’s turnout was less than 20% statewide.

The potential for abuse is even more dire when you think of how political organizations could use the open primary system to their advantage. Here’s an example: let’s say there is a Republican candidate who spoke out in favor of a bill banning abortion in the state and this same legislator is now running in a contested primary. Planned Parenthood then mounts a campaign and mobilizes its members to get out the vote and to cast their vote against this incumbent Republican legislator in an effort to defeat him in the primary. These kinds of efforts thwart the will of the people. No one – no person or political
organization – has the right to employ a strategy to throw a primary election. Such efforts disenfranchise state voters.

We must close our primaries.

Our legislators know this. Last year there was an effort made to do this by offering an amendment to the omnibus “election integrity bill” that ultimately passed both houses. Unfortunately, just as this issue seemed to be gaining momentum on the House floor, the amendment was tabled after some impassioned debate and ended with an eloquent floor speech, given by Representative Brandon Newton, who shut the conversation down.

There are renewed efforts this year…stay tuned…