A bill is wending its ways through the halls of the legislative building in Carson City that would jettison the current Democrat and Republican primaries in favor of an open primary system, in which anyone could sign up as a candidate and anyone could vote for anyone of any party or no party. The top two vote getters would advance to the General Election, even if both are affiliated with the same party.
The bill would make the two major political parties largely irrelevant in actually selecting their own candidates and reduce them to the role of merely endorsing candidates.
Senate Bill 103 was introduced by Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden.
The Legislative Counsel Bureau digest says of the bill: “This bill changes the nominating process for partisan offices to create a modified nonpartisan ‘blanket’ primary system in which the names of all candidates appear on the primary election ballot and any registered voter may vote for any candidate, regardless of affiliation with a political party.”
Settelmeyer has told the media that some of his constituents were upset that they could not vote in the primary because they were nonpartisan.
As of December, 39 percent of active Nevada voters were Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 28 percent nonpartisan or members of some other minor party.
The whole concept of partisan party politics is to facilitate persons of like-minded political persuasions to organize and select candidates that promise to advance a given philosophy of governance — though in recent years the efficacy of this proposition has been suspect in Nevada with self-styled conservatives voting for history making tax hikes.
We’ve never been in favor of forcing all taxpayers, including nonpartisans and members of other parties, to pay for the primaries the state puts on for the Democrat and Republican parties. Let those parties pay for their primaries or caucuses or smoke-filled backrooms.
But an open primary system makes it more difficult for the average voter to weigh the various candidates based on past allegiances and opens the opportunity for Fifth Column candidates to claim to be what they are not. Faux Democrats or faux Republicans could flood the ballot and split the vote for a party’s real favorite. It also lessens the visibility and potential for third party candidates who likely would be eliminated in the primary.
In Louisiana in the 1970s Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards hatched a foolproof plan to end the Republican Party in that state. He pushed through an open primary under the assumption Republicans would not make it to the General Election, due to heavy Democratic majorities in the urban areas of the state, meaning two Democrats would face off in November.
But the best laid plans oft gang awry. In the next election there were seven Democrats on the gubernatorial ballot, one nonpartisan and one Republican. When the smoke cleared, Republican Dave Treen was elected governor, leading the way for the state to transition to Republican domination.
At least the open primary is better than letting anyone and everyone decide on Election Day in which primary they will vote, which some states allow.
Think of it this way. Political parties are like brands. Without brands who knows what adulterated product you are getting.
Politics is messy. Open primaries just make it messier.
At the turn of the previous century Baltimore’s notoriously curmudgeonly newspaper columnist, H.L. Mencken, pined for more realism in politics: “The voter would make his selection in the full knowledge of all the facts, as he makes his selection between two heads of cabbage, or two evening papers, or two brands of chewing tobacco. Today he chooses his rulers as he buys bootleg whiskey, never knowing precisely what he is getting, only certain that it is not what it pretends to be. The Scotch may turn out to be wood alcohol or it may turn out to be gasoline; in either case it is not Scotch. … The danger is that the hopeless voters, forever victimized by his false assumption about politicians, may in the end gather such ferocious indignation that he will abolish them teetotally and at one insane sweep, and so cause government by the people, for the people and with the people to perish from this earth.”
In 2014, only 59 percent of those eligible to vote in Nevada even bothered to register. Of those who registered, only 46 percent went to the polls in November, meaning 73 percent of those eligible to vote did not choose any brand of bootleg whiskey.
An open primary just makes matters worse.
A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.