A bill currently floating around the Missouri Legislature seeks to change the way our state votes in primary elections. Rather than allowing citizens to choose what party ballot to use at the election, it would require that we all register our party preference in advance. What it doesn’t include, however, is a requirement that political parties pay for the cost of such an election, and it should.
If you read last week’s paper, you probably saw a letter to the editor from Phelps County Clerk Pamela Grow, who voiced her support for the bill. In part, she said, “The purpose of the primary is to allow members of a political party to nominate a candidate to appear on a general election ballot as their designee.”
While many would argue that the purpose of primary elections are to allow everyone—not just members of political parties—to choose candidates who will appear in the general election, it appears that Grow, and many of her Republican colleagues in the legislature, only want registered Republicans and registered Democrats voting in their parties’ primaries. What about independents, which most people are?
What is most alarming about this proposal, however, is that while the bill only wants people who are registered as a party member to vote in party primaries, those proposing it still want all the taxpayers to fund the election. Why should independents have to pay so members of political parties can select their candidates? If only Republicans can vote in a Republican primary, then the Republican Party should pay for the cost of the election, and that goes for Democrats, Libertarians, and the like.
All you have to do is look at Crawford County for why this proposed bill is unacceptable. In many Crawford County primaries, there are no other candidates to vote for in the primary other than Republicans. That means the primary election determines who will win the general election. If people who were registered Democrats were unable to vote in a Republican primary, then they would have no vote whatsoever on who their county officeholders would be.
Grow also pointed out that political parties already have the authority to reject candidates who want to appear on their primary ballot. That happened just last year in Crawford County in the race for prosecutor. A candidate filed and the Republican Party, not the county, rejected their filing fee and they did not appear on the ballot.
Again, why are taxpayers having to pay for our political parties to choose their candidates when said elections are not free and open for all who want to seek public office?
If our political parties want to have their members select their candidates for general elections, then that is fine. What’s not fine, however, is making taxpayers foot the bill for making such decisions. And, there is quite an easy solution if that is what they truly desire.
Rather than having a primary election, the political parties should have local caucuses decide their candidates. The party faithful can assemble in each county in a public meeting and hash out which candidates they want to put on the general election ballot. That would achieve the exact same results, and it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
As long as taxpayers are funding our primary elections, however, they must remain open as they have always been. Part of exercising your right to vote is being able to vote for the candidates you want or vote against the ones you don’t. If you are a Republican, you should be able to take a Democrat ballot at the primary and vote for who you feel are the worst candidates, if that is what you want to do. And if you’re a Democrat, you should be able to do the same.
If we’re going to make any change in our primary elections, then they should become non-partisan—at least on the county level. Party affiliation means little at the county level, as Republicans in Crawford County have proven several times by asking voters for tax increases. And, does it matter what a county clerk’s position on abortion is, or how they feel about gun control? No, because they can’t do anything about either one.
Let all candidates file for office, conduct the primary, and then have the top two finishers square off in the general election. That would be a much better system, and one worthy of having the taxpayers fund, rather than one that restricts their voting rights.
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