Closed primaries threaten our democratic ideals
Although a narrow path to the Democratic nomination remains, it seems probable that Bernie Sanders will eventually lose in a hard-fought primary season that has seen an immense struggle over the ideological future of the Democratic Party.
It seems that the United States, as bold as it has been throughout its history, is not quite ready to accept Sanders’ “political revolution;” at least, not with its current system.
Although its impact on the process thus far may seem minimal, the institutionalized and shameless voter suppression, otherwise known as the closed primary system, has left its mark on the Bernie Sanders candidacy, and may leave an indelible mark on the United States for years to come.
Many states in the United States hold open primaries or caucuses, where citizens may vote in a primary election regardless of their party affiliation, or semi-closed contests, where independents are allowed to vote in the primary for the party of their choice. In all, 30 U.S. states allow independent voters to vote in their nominating contests, including Michigan, Texas, Illinois, Virginia and Georgia.
However, the wholesale exclusion of independent voters from the process — including in Florida — is having a strong effect on this primary and is hurting Bernie Sanders badly.
In Michigan, an open primary contest where Sanders won by about 1.5 percentage points despite polls that predicted a crushing loss, about 10 percent of registered independent voters chose to vote in the Democratic primary.
Exit polling conducted by CNN shows that Sanders won these independent voters by a 43-point margin over Clinton. Despite losing Texas’ open primary by 32 points, Sanders won independent voters by a 16-point margin there, according to the New York Times.
If independent voters had been allowed to vote in Florida’s primary, Sanders could have won as many as 12 more delegates, assuming voter turnout similar to that in Michigan and candidate preference similar to that in Texas.
Although shifting 12 delegates from one candidate to the other seems like it might not make much of a difference, an adjustment to this single result could cut Clinton’s current lead in delegates from 228 to 204.
If we apply similar math to Arizona, another closed primary state, Sanders might have won four more delegates if independents had participated. This would reduce Clinton’s lead to fewer than 200 delegates.
In Colorado and Maine, closed caucus states that Sanders won with 59 and 64 percent of the vote, respectively, the margins may have been even greater if independents had been allowed to caucus.
Many of the crucial upcoming states, including New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Oregon, have closed primaries. It remains to be seen how far Sanders will be able to cut down on Clinton’s overall lead — if he comes up short by 50 or 60 delegates, it may very well be because of closed primaries and caucuses.
The concept of closed nominating contests is inherently anti-American. American citizens who want to vote should never be turned away from the polls for any reason (unless they’ve already voted).
Registration deadlines and the exclusion of independent voters — who constitute a plurality of voters in America and make up a larger group than either Democrats or Republicans — are just legal ways of silencing the voices of millions of voters nationwide.
This system seems ready to lead us to an unprecedented situation in November. The leading candidates for the Democratic and Republican nominations, Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively, are disliked by a majority of voters.
The net favorability rating, the difference between the percentages of registered voters who say they have a “favorable view” of a candidate and those who say they have an “unfavorable view,” stands at -13 for Clinton and a whopping -39 for Trump. In contrast, Bernie Sanders’ rating stands at +7 and John Kasich’s at +19.
It’s tragic that the next president of the United States is likely to be someone whom most Americans dislike. If we really want to increase voter turnout and restore our country to the vibrant republic it used to be, we should eliminate closed primaries and caucuses.
This would help to loosen political parties’ stranglehold on the system and give a voice to everyone, not just those who identify as Democrat or Republican. If everyone is allowed to vote, then perhaps candidates who really represent the interests of those voters could make it onto the ballot in November.
Alex Storer is a senior staff writer for the Central Florida Future.