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Our primary problem

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-10-04


Three years out of every four a testy woman comes to vote in precinct 502/503. She invariably refuses to declare a party, required in order to vote in the primary, and argues the point loudly with poll workers. Eventually, with a low growl, she chooses a party and snarls her way to the voting machine.

Oh, she understands the system, she fully understands that the May primary is little more than two private parties, chummy clubs if you will, holding private elections at public expense. Ms. Angry Voter understands, but still wants to make her point that she should have the right to vote for anybody on the ballot, regardless of party affiliation.

She wants an a la carte menu of candidates, a bit of mix and match, to create, in essence, her own political party. She doesnít like to be confined to one partyís list of candidates. What she longs for is called the open primary ballot that allows a voter to pick and choose from all names on a ballot. To her, an open primary more closely mimics life, where a blend of ideas and approaches is more effective than either partyís narrow dogma.

The parties have become irrelevant to her, more self-serving than public spirited. Ms. Angry Voter is disgusted with the increasing polarization of the national and state Republicans and Democrats. She sees them in competition, not cooperative, she sees them as selfish brats, not mature adults, who argue for the sake of arguing. She is right. Sadly, seldom do the parties find middle ground; more often they rail, demonize and ridicule whatever the other party offers, even if it from their own playbook, and regardless of whether it is good for the nation. After all, as Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell said, his goal was to defeat the president, not find ways to work together.
Ms. Angry Voter sees the parties drifting ever farther to their extremes, away from her, away from the majority of citizens, each to their own horizon like two slow moving continents.

Her frustration is reflected in the general public; in Hoosier primaries as few as 20% of registered voters bother to show up. Most signs point to increasing apathy, and turnouts eventually falling under 10% and less.

The problem is that the parties are growing smaller. As they grow smaller ideologues grow increasingly powerful. With their single issue litmus tests they run even more people from their parties. The drift is further to the fringe and away from us in the center, making the parties look less and less like the mainstream.

These party regulars, whether Republican or Democrat, tend to be the most active, the most dogmatic, the holier-than-thou who demand purity. They are like scowling cheerleaders, like an angry fan club, like the booster block gone bad, that see their team as all good and the other side as the vile enemy to be dehumanized and eradicated. So it has become in Washington and Indianapolis. They donít mind cheating to win, because the other side is really, after all, the cause of what is destroying America.
The middle of America, on the other hand, just wants communities to be safe and enjoyable, the water clean and crooks in jail, even if they are county councilmen. They want a rule of law upheld where the ruling class and the ruled are treated with balance.
Ms. Angry Voter and her friends are about solutions. Her middle is about listening, about deliberations, negotiating, and compromise. Ms. Angry is about results, not unbending positions and party-line purity.

That is why voters have turned their backs on both the primaries where we voters are increasingly presented with candidates vetted by the fringe who are more dependent on their purist supporters than the general population.

Ms. Angry Voter and the rest of us want a la carte. We hear wisdom and ludicrousness from both parties, so we want to pick and choose from every name on the primary ballot. Most of us want a progressive vision for our community, but one we can pay for. Better neighborhoods, security, great parks, flat streets and a vibrant downtown. We want our lives to be easier, with more options and fewer hurdles. That takes creativity, prudence and planning from whoever is elected and that balance is found within both parties, not just one or the other.

An answer is the open primary that Ms. Angry Voter has demanded for years where Republicans, Democrats and the unaffiliated are pooled together in the various office contests. The top vote getters are pitted against one another on the fall ballot. Sadly, the parties who have a lock on the system fear the open primary.

Two hundred years ago parties were a way of communicating ideas, of building consensus and managing government. They turned, over the years, to cronyism, nepotism and the creation of a political aristocracy or ruling class that barely slaps high offenders on the wrist while slapping the poor in the slammer. Now, they have become a refuge of dogmatists and purists, a place to hide behind words and phrases that mean nothing in practical matters of water filtration and park management.

An open ballot reduces the power of the fringe in the parties, something the power brokers fear. Then, it reduces the power of the parties, their empty platforms and their dogma in favor of candidates who have to stand on their own merits, rather than depend on a party apparatus and election day armies to get them elected.

Ms. Angry Voter who complains each May is right. She should have the right to vote for anyone on the ballot. It would make for a better city, state and nation.

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