Five-Part Series on Primaries
By Valerie Emmert
Part I: Why Vote in Primaries?
Most people understand that the Primary Election is the process by which each political party chooses its nominee to face off in the General Election. Naturally, when there are a lot of candidates from which to choose, there is increased excitement to participate. Conversely, when there are few or no contested races on the primary ballot, turnout drops off.
While the election of Party nominees is an important, and the most “sexy” purpose of Primaries, there are other equally important reasons to vote a partisan primary ballot—local party accountability through election of private party officers and insuring free and fair elections through citizen supervision as poll workers and challengers.
First, voting in Primaries preserves the principle of competition on which our two-party system is based, by giving citizens an opportunity to align themselves with one or the other of two contradictory visions for our community and country. Choosing to “affiliate” with a Party by voting its ballot gives each of us a voice in the direction of that Party’s platform by virtue of controlling who represents that Party on the General Election ballot. Case in point: the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders—the citizens vs. the political class of each party.
Second, there are races for internal Party offices, which do not appear on the General Election ballot—County Central Committee and State Central Committee. These offices make up the structure of the local County party organization and State party organization respectively. These elected officers attend meetings to vote on which candidates receive party endorsements and money, elect Party Officers, etc. By design, just as with our elected public officials, these Party officers are elected by and accountable to, the citizens they represent—citizens who identify with that Party in its primary.
Finally, in keeping with the thread of competition that is woven throughout the fabric of our country—from the economy to our government structure of separate but equal branches—our election system has a built-in safeguard of citizen oversight of our elections—poll workers and challengers. While their importance has gotten lost in the national debate over voter fraud and disenfranchisement as both Parties jockey for the upper hand in elections, poll workers and challengers are critical to keeping our elections free and fair. By law, citizens must be affiliated with a Party in order to perform these oversight functions.
In closing, while choosing a Party’s nominee might be the “sexiest” reason to request a Party’s ballot in a Primary Election, those who do so also have the opportunity to become their own arbiters of a free and fair election by holding Parties accountable for endorsements and funding of candidates or by overseeing elections as poll workers of challengers.