Open primaries are not the cure to low voter participation
An open primary might seem like a good idea to many people but as someone who has lived through it I am not sure it is the answer people are looking for to increase voter participation.
A group called South Dakota Open Primaries is currently circulating a petition to put a measure on the ballot which would establish an open primary system in the state. Under the current system only voters registered for a party can vote for a candidate running for the party’s nomination. Under the open primary any voter can vote for any candidate with the top two candidates, even if they are of the same party, running in the general election.
One of the major reasons listed by organizations advocating for an open primary is it would increase voter turnout in the primaries and provide people a way to choose the candidate they want. Though, in reality, it has often caused confusion and leads to many races being dominated by one of the major parties.
California went through a similar experience and over the past several election cycles many statewide and federal races are now dominated by the Democratic party with no Republicans even finishing in the top two. There are some races for U.S. House in which only Republicans finish in the top two.
Supporters believed this would increase voter turnout and it really hasn’t. Voter turnout has remained low with the open primary system showing no increase in voter turnout. It has also led to races where it is really decided in the primary election and the general election being even less important.
Many commentators and political analysts are worried over the lack of voter participation in elections, which has steadily decreased since the 1980s. Open primaries so far have proven they are not the answer. Instead states which have implemented a vote by mail system only have seen voter participation increase, though still short of the goal of everyone voting.
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