Picking presidents not private property of political parties (nor are pickled peppers, people)

Yesterday, I Tweeted my indignation that some SC counties consider the coming GOP presidential primary to be, as Adam Beam reported it, “a private election” that the state Republican Party should pay for.

That position is utterly indefensible. If any election should be publicly funded, this one should be. It is the ONLY chance for South Carolinians to have a voice in deciding who the president will be.

We know that South Carolinians who voted for the Barack Obama in November of that year will have zero effect on the electoral total, because in this red state, all the electors will go into the Republican column.

So this is it, your one chance to make a choice that has any effect. You don’t vote in the GOP primary, and you have no opportunity to influence the election. And the state of South Carolina owes its people that chance.

Yeah, I know that counties are extremely strapped for basic operating funds. As a public defender in Chester wrote to me in response,

The untold story of the budget the last few years is how strapped most counties have been. The parties ought to pick up the tab…

He added:

My office hasn’t received any additional county funding in years. I just see higher priorities locally than this.

I get that. And it’s fine with me if the only slightly less strapped state government (which is largely responsible for local governments’ inability to fund basic services) pays for the election.

The selection of the president is not the private property of political parties (nor pickled peppers). Although occasionally some partisans act as thought it were.

What we SHOULD do is have totally open primaries, meaning that you get to vote in both (when we have both). We should not be barred from voting in the Democratic primary because we voted that same day in the Republican, and vice versa. Every single voter in the state has a stake in who appears on that ballot in November, because one of those people is going to get elected. You should have a say in both of them.

For those of you who say this is nonsense, that of course it’s the choice of the parties whom they nominate, I say that’s the extent to which you have been brainwashed by these parties that hold a shared monopoly on public office in this country.

I won’t get my way on that any time soon. For now, I’ll just be grateful that we’re not yet required to register by party. And continue to expect my government to provide me with the opportunity to vote, at least to that extent.

19 thoughts on “Picking presidents not private property of political parties (nor are pickled peppers, people)

  1. Doug Ross

    So the counties should also pay for the Libertarian, Green, etc. primaries to be held as well?

    Party primaries should be paid for by the parties 100%. Then you could vote in both.

    Or require that all parties hold their primaries on the same day… that would be the only way to justify public funding.

    I don’t see how using public funds to pay for a specific party’s candidate selection process could be supported by the Constitution.

  2. Mark Stewart

    Given the Republican field this year, Obama might actually have the possibility of carrying South Carolina next year.

    I’m kidding (mostly), but it does make one wonder how and why the Republican Party has been so strained to produce viable candidates to challenge Obama.

    I do disagree about the open primaries though: People should be able to vote in either election without regard to party affiliation; but no one should be permitted to vote in BOTH primaries. A vote is a vote. If you have two to use, some might wield that second vote with cynicism.

  3. Phillip

    Thanks, Brad, you reminded me that A) there will be no Democratic presidential primary this year, and B) that I therefore can vote in the GOP primary without penalty. Yippee, I’m going to vote for Bachmann or Perry.

    Seriously, I’m wondering if the SC Democratic Party is pondering an organizational push to get Democratic voters to the GOP primary for purposes of trying to tilt the ultimate GOP result towards the loony side (ergo, Perry or Bachmann). As you say, this is our state’s only chance to influence the outcome, really. I really want to see those Obama-Perry debates, don’t you?

  4. bud

    It is the ONLY chance for South Carolinians to have a voice in deciding who the president will be.

    This isn’t even close. Of course the GOP should pay for the primary. Since someone like me is disenfranchised from the selection process and I would never vote for any of the Republican candidates I shouldn’t have to pay for it. Let the GOP pay for it so that someone like me doesn’t have to ante up.

  5. bud

    Every single voter in the state has a stake in who appears on that ballot in November, because one of those people is going to get elected. You should have a say in both of them.

    I say that’s the extent to which you have been brainwashed by these parties that hold a shared monopoly on public office in this country.

    Huh? You rail against the two party system then support a funding method that perpetuates that system. Geez, the mental gymnastics some people go through.

  6. Matt

    Maybe it shouldn’t be a party exercise, but it is – and therefore the party should flip the bill. It is wrong to tell a local government that they have to pay for an election where only one political party’s candidates are allowed to appear on the ballot and where there is an implied understanding that the voters who choose to vote in that election are choosing to self-identify with that party.

  7. Doug Ross


    Your argument against the statutory limit is correct – as long as the system as rigged for the current two parties, a third party has no chance to meet whatever level would be set — especially since that limit would be set by a legislature controlled by the two parties. You think they are going to give any third party a chance (i.e. access to campaign funds).

    Here’s a case where our supposed elected leaders are not doing what the public would want.

  8. Brad

    Oh, as for Bud’s comment that I “support a funding method that perpetuates that system.” This is similar to Doug getting on my case about attacking the parties, yet endorsing Democrats and Republicans.

    Doug’s concern is easier to deal with. I consider every candidate as an individual, without considering party as a factor for or against him — BECAUSE I don’t believe in parties. What that means is that I will almost always endorse a Democrat or a Republican. That’s because the best candidates, at least 99 percent of the time, choose one of those designations. That’s because someone who is intelligent enough to be a good candidate is usually intelligent enough to know that running outside the party system makes it almost — not entirely, but almost — impossible to win.

    I’ve always known that, but I’ve thought about it even more since I left the paper. Since March 2009, I have for the first time in my adult life been able to contemplate running for office myself, rather than just sitting back and being a critic. But every way I consider it, it seems next to impossible to get elected outside either of the parties. Not entirely, but so nearly that my conscience would bother me in asking donors to invest in such a venture (not that they would even if I had a great pitch; donors don’t want to contribute to a cause they regard as utterly lost).

    So I remain a critic. Because I’m unParty.

    Mind you, I have twice been party to endorsing a candidate who was not major-party. One was Bubba Cromer, who ran as an independent in the mid-90s. That was a rare case when the independent actually was the strongest candidate. He won, and served very well in the SC House.

    The other case I’m less proud of. We endorsed a Libertarian once, but only to show our dissatisfaction with the Democratic incumbent in a county council race. I regretted that later. After the endorsement, I learned more and more about our endorsee, and decided ultimately that the incumbent (who won) was actually the lesser of two evils.

    As for Bud’s point… I can only say what I say because I know that in a presidential race, for instance, either the Democrat or the Republican is going to win the election. This is a fact. Someday, and I hope that day comes soon, that will change. But it hasn’t changed since 1860, and boy did that take some upheaval, both before and after.

    You may say that occasionally there is an independent candidate who gets a significant number of votes. Ross Perot, for instance. But Ross Perot was self-selected. There is no third-, or fourth-, or seventeenth-party candidate whose selection bears enough chance of winning the election that I would feel that selection PROCESS was a significant matter for public involvement.

    There was, of course, Ralph Nader in 2000. (I’ll bet Bud doesn’t think HIS candidacy was a good thing for the country, since it gave us W.) And that raises a debatable point. If an alternative-party candidate can have that effect — the effect of a spoiler — on the election, then isn’t that party’s process a legitimate public concern? Not really, I would argue. The Green Party itself was not a real factor in that election. Ralph Nader was a celebrity candidate, who simply chose that vehicle. If that party’s candidate had been anyone else, none of us could name today whom they had fielded in that election. The thing that mattered to the public was that Nader ran; the selection process of the Green Party (his vehicle of convenience) was not of any concern to the public until all of a sudden it was Ralph Nader.

  9. Brad

    Doug and I just crossed paths, so I’m just now seeing “Here’s a case where our supposed elected leaders are not doing what the public would want.”

    Well, unfortunately, our courts allow a certain amount of that. For instance, the courts allow incumbent-protection to be a legitimate aim in redistricting. Which I think is anathema, but there it is — a bow to political reality that is given constitutional protection.

  10. Doug Ross

    Rather than eliminate the straight party option on a ballot, why not just remove all the party affiliations from the general election ballot? Then it would require at a minimum a basic level of name recognition for a candidate thus preventing the Alvin Greene debacles.

    Again, the requirement that a ballot list a party probably could be overturned by the courts.

  11. Brad

    Mark, you ought to take a look at this Kevin Siers cartoon (which The State, not having Robert, used this morning in black-and-white form — thank goodness; I almost always find color detracts from the impact of an editorial cartoon). I assume it was inspired by the president’s pass through that state this week.

    No, bud, you are not disenfranchised. You get to have your say, because Republicans who have tried to close their primaries have not had their way. If they did, and (as in this case) there was no Democratic primary, you would be at least in part disenfranchised. You would still get to vote in November, but you would likely be forced, under such a closed system, to choose between two candidates whom you would never have chosen, while a candidate you DID prefer fell in the primary without your getting to vote for him.

    In 2012, there is a chance (I think it remains less than even, but still a significant chance) that the Republican nominee will be the president in January 2013. And that’s why you must, if you care at all about your country, vote in the Republican primary.

    This is not like a state primary, where if you vote for a candidate you like in one race on the Democratic side, you are not allowed to vote for the candidate you like in another race because he’s in the Republican primary. That is the EXTREME injustice. I was disenfranchised in every other race I cared about in my Lexington County precinct last year because I chose a Democratic ballot so I could vote for Vincent Sheheen. Think about that for a moment — where I live, the Republican primary IS the election, in everything form county offices to Congress. So I did not get a say on anything but governor.

    You actually have an obligation as a citizen to vote in the GOP presidential primary, because you would be giving up nothing by doing so. That’s the only office being voted on in that primary. You should vote for the candidate you like the most, or in your case, the one you dislike the least. It would be absurd, and irresponsible as a voter, to pin all your hopes on Obama. (Again, I think he’ll be re-elected, but I don’t KNOW that.)

    The only viable argument against what I’m saying here — and then it is only technically viable — is Doug’s. In a court of law, the utter silliness of considering the Green Party’s selection process as a matter of serious public concern could be treated as a real equal protection matter. Because the law is no respecter of persons, and one hopes, of parties. The judiciary doesn’t have to take common sense into consideration (at least, not in something like this).

    But that could be dealt with statutorily. A threshold for viability could be set. The sad thing is that you couldn’t simply use judgment, but you’d probably have to set a numerical threshold to prove political viability, which is far from ideal. (And if I were to argue against it, I would say it militated against a party ever rising to power if, say, you set its threshold as being how many votes it got in the last election, the most likely measure.)

  12. Brad

    Oh, I should add, as an additional response to Bud’s concern that I’m perpetuating the party system by having the state pay for it.

    I’m actually trying to achieve the opposite. As I say in my headline, I want to take the decision-making process out of the hands of the parties. For that reason, I think it’s great when parties opt to have primaries rather than conventions or caucuses (which only party loyalists can, or at least will, attend).

    The moment they make it a public vote, one that I can participate in, and use state voting machines, and the polling sites that we use in general elections, that process has the impimatur of the state, and the state should take the responsibility of paying for it.

    And once the people are paying for it, the process of choosing which two people will have a chance of winning the office in the fall should completely belong to all of the people, and no longer in any way be the purview of the partisans.

    So now you see my scheme…

    Next thing you know, the parties lose their grip… and when that happens to a sufficient extent, independents have a chance. And our politics have the chance to be transformed.

  13. bud

    Brad, for those of us who do not completely despise parties it’s a pretty clear matter to focus on which brand of politics has the best chance for good governance. Right now the Democrats offer that best hope. Like it or not parties and their platforms do matter. And why shouldn’t they? Providing an ammalgamation of ideas within a party umbrella doesn’t seem like such a horrible idea. Sure individuals often do stray from the party line. I would certainly stray fairly frequently with the Democrats on some issues. But it seems clear that a united front is our best hope to counter the chicanery and unworkable ideas embraced by the other party.

    Once the existence of parties is justified then it follows that the parties and not the state as a whole should fund their primaries. As one who finds the GOP reprehensible I would be appalled at the thought of funding thier primary. As a Democrat I would only vote in the GOP primary in hopes of selecting a weak candidate.

  14. Gary Karr

    The more logical proposal would be to legally end all party primaries and have any candidate who reached a threshold # of ballot signatures be able to be placed on the ballot. The parties could hold local/state/national conventions to formally endorse — just like the editorial board of the State gets together to endorse — but otherwise anyone could run if they could demonstrate support.

    Yeah, that isn’t very practical. But it’s just as practical and common sense as Brad’s suggestion.

  15. Nick Nielsen


    If I recall my electoral systems correctly, you’ve just described the Louisiana primary system, or something very much like it.

  16. martin

    Don’t convention delegates choose a party’s presidential candidate after states have used primaries, caucuses or smoke filled rooms as popularity contests, more or less?
    I don’t even think each state’s delegates are bound to support the winner of a primary/caucus/smoke filled room.

  17. Brad

    By the way, reader Todd Hagins brought to my attention the 1927 Supreme Court case, Nixon v Herndon, as having a bearing on this issue.

    That caused me to read further, and I found myself even more interested in the 1944 Smith v. Allwright case, in which Texas had tried to defend its practice of barring blacks from voting in the Democratic primary by claiming that the Democratic Party was a private organization that could set its own rules of membership.

    The court found that the primary was not just a function of a private organization, but rather an integral component of the electoral process.

    Amen to that.


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