Thursday, July 15, 2010

“Open primary” not worth the hassle

We’re going to get much speculation in coming months about just how quickly the General Assembly will kill off an attempt by Gov. Pat Quinn to bring the concept of “open” primary elections to Illinois.

Quinn this week took action on a bill that technically related to Internet information and elections. But through use of his “amendatory veto” powers, he made changes that are meant to eliminate requirements that people publicly declare which political party they are affiliated with when they show up at the polling place on Primary Election days.

AS NOW PROPOSED by Quinn, people who show up to vote in primaries would now be handed ballots for every single political party that is officially on the ballot. In the privacy of the voter booth (or the video touch screens, or whatever device one uses to vote), a person would pick the ballot they want to use.

They would then be able to deposit it into the ballot box (once completed), without having to publicly tell anyone which political party they chose.

A part of me wants to joke that the Green Party should be opposed to this measure because it would have the potential to generate signficant waste paper for the ballots that a voter decides not to use. Seriously, I want to say it will be a lot of wasted effort on the part of people working in polling places, along with the voters themselves.

Personally, I have always thought that the people who get most worked up over this issue ought to have better things to worry about. Then again, ever since I created this weblog, I have made a point of writing Election Day commentaries explaining exactly who I voted for.

NOT ONLY AM I giving away a political party, I’m going farther. In part, I think it helps would-be readers better comprehend the ideological bent of these commentaries. I also don’t think it to be some incredibly sacred, top secret fact that I have generally cast ballots in Democratic primary elections, and usually (but not always) find myself more sympathetic toward Democrats come the general election.

If it seems that I’m writing here that I don’t really see the need for this action, you’d be correct. Which is why I won’t be getting too worked up when, come autumn, the General Assembly uses its fall veto session to kill this measure.

For that is what the pundits already are speculating. How quickly will Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, have the House of Representatives vote to override Quinn’s amendatory veto – thereby restoring the bill to its original form?

Or, will he find some political procedure to just kill the bill outright – thereby leaving those people whose top concern this spring was the Internet and elections out of luck until next year? (Sounds just like the Chicago Cubs).

WHAT I AM pleased about is that Quinn didn’t try to use political procedures to try to configure a new law that is usually desired by the type of people who usually push hardest on this issue – they want an open primary where they can pick and choose from candidates from all political primaries.

They obviously don’t realize the Supreme Court of the United States has already issued a ruling that rejects this very concept – an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia (so the conservative ideologues can’t claim this is “liberal claptrap,” or some other nonsense phrase).

The problem with such an idea is that we have political primaries for the specific reason that we have political parties, and the first election is meant to give those parties a chance to pick their candidates for electoral office.

Some units of government, usually the local municipalities where there just isn’t any significant split among their affected electorate, have their non-partisan elections (with the idea of a run-off if no one candidate can get a majority vote in the first election).

THAT WOULDN’T WORK for statewide elections. So the idea that all the candidates get thrown into a mess and we somehow pick people would create an even more chaotic mess than the electoral process we already have.

If anything, I worry that the kind of people who want to undermine the current electoral process are the ones whose motivation really has nothing to do with them wanting a sense of fairness on Election Day. If anything, they probably want less choice for voters.

They probably envision a system in which the partisan candidates who support their ideological beliefs will completely squash out the other side’s candidates. The fact that we have a state with significant numbers of people of various ideas means we need to have their primaries kept separate.

Besides, if the good government types really want to nit-pick, do they believe Chicago city elections that are non-partisan are somehow more fair or equitable because the parties aren’t recognized (because there just isn’t enough of a Chicago GOP to warrant its own primary equal to that of the Democrats)?


Which is why while Quinn may be well-intentioned with his amendatory veto on this issue, this will be one time that I won’t find it the least bit objectionable to see Mike Madigan play power politics and send this idea to its governmental grave.


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