If the 2016 primary season has brought us one lesson, it is that for the sake of the integrity of the American political system, the major political parties must close their primary elections.
I have no idea how Donald Trump is going to finish out his run for the Republican presidential nomination, but if he wins, he can thank large numbers of new and crossover voters for the honor. Just as we saw Senator Barack Obama do in 2008 for the Democrats, Trump has energized the primary turnout, and the numbers indicate he is winning with voters that are not your usual GOP standard-bearers.
A little insight this week from the Financial Times (ft.com) on the Trump phenomenon in Ohio.
“In Ohio’s heavily Democratic Mahoning County, election board officials said in several precincts they had seen more Republican ballots cast than there were registered Republicans in the area, forcing them to send out additional Republican ballots to 60 of the county’s 212 precincts.
“Twice as many Republicans are voting in this primary than we’d normally expect — and about half of them are unaffiliated voters or Democrats,” said Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County’s Board of Elections. “I think the lion’s share of what we’re seeing is a pro-Trump thing… I call it the ballot box revolution.”
As a lifelong Republican voter I am pleased to see these types of anecdotes emerging, but at the same time I have serious doubts about the integrity of the process.
The mystery remains: Is Trump really that popular with voters who are either conservative or who are opting out of what the liberals are selling this time around, or is this some fantastic goof playing out around the country, a la 2008’s “Operation Chaos?”
For those of you in Rio Linda, this Washington Post clip dated 5-8-2008 should bring you up to speed on what happened under the direction of Rush Limbaugh, and his surprisingly effective, yet eventually fruitless, attempt to sabotage the Democratic primary contest between then Senator Hillary Clinton and the aforementioned Senator Obama:
The impact of Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” emerged as an intriguing point of debate, particularly in Indiana, where registered voters could participate in either party’s primary, and where Clinton won by a mere 14,000 votes. As he had before several recent primaries, Limbaugh encouraged listeners to vote for Clinton to “bloody up Obama politically” and prolong the Democratic fight.
Limbaugh crowed about the success of his ploy all day Tuesday, featuring on-air testimonials from voters in Indiana and North Carolina who recounted their illicit pleasure in casting a vote for Clinton. “Some of the people show up and they ask for a Democrat ballot, and the poll worker says, ‘Why, what are you going to do?’ He says, ‘Operation Chaos,’ and they just laugh,” Limbaugh said Tuesday.
But Limbaugh called off the operation yesterday, saying he wants Obama to be the party’s pick, because “I now believe he would be the weakest of the Democrat nominees.”
Yeah, that worked out well.
Which brings us back to 2016. Many pundits are astonished that Trump continues to dominate the GOP delegate count, even though his victories by plurality seem to be getting smaller in number. Given the unique nature of this orange-tinted human oddity, known primarily as an American pop culture icon before his ascension in the political realm, there are prevailing theories that Trump’s hardcore supporters are merely in the midst of playing the most elaborate practical joke in history.
Quite a dangerous joke, given what is at stake, but it would be quite the knee slapper if they pulled it off.
If there is to be any assurance that a similar subversive plot does not unfold in coming years, for any of our major parties, it is vital we move to a system where only genuine party members and supporters are allowed to participate in the nomination process.
There are 28 states that stage closed presidential contests. In these states voters are locked into voting for one party or another, for at least a year at a time. This is where we get the terms “registered Democrats” and “registered Republicans.”
Georgia and South Carolina are among the more than 20 states which hold what are known as open presidential primaries. In such a contest, any registered voter can request, and receive, a ballot for either party primary they wish.
We saw the confusion and chaos this can cause firsthand in 2012, right here in Augusta. There were several controversial local races that were pretty much decided in the primaries because of Richmond County’s concentration of Democrat voters and Columbia County’s concentration of Republican voters. When Scott Peebles, a well-known conservative, challenged Richard Roundtree in the Democratic primary for Richmond County sheriff, untold numbers of faithful Republican voters crossed over to vote for him. That ended up costing valuable votes in the 12th district congressional Republican primary that saw Lee Anderson narrowly emerge as the ill-fated nominee that would eventually lose to incumbent Democrat John Barrow. Many believe if the GOP faithful had stayed and voted in their own primary, Rick Allen would have defeated Anderson and eventually defeated Barrow. He did just that in 2014.
So things can get convoluted and screwy when voters disregard their genuine political convictions to cross party lines at the last moment.
One can only imagine where today’s delegate count would stand, for either frontrunners Trump or Clinton, in their respective parties, had only the “party faithful” been allowed to vote. Even though on the surface it appears to limit participation, I firmly believe that unless the open primary states change their policies and require a one-year waiting period before switching parties (first-time voters would be exempt), we are in for a lot more Trumps and a lot more troubles.