Commentary: Disenfranchisement in Delaware closed primary election system
Why should the primary election system in the State of Delaware be changed?
It has become abundantly clear that the two-party political system in the State of Delaware and the nation has broken down and has ceased to function in a way that best serves the people. We are currently wrestling over minor points that are driven by political posturing that has resulted in the closure of services rendered by the federal government. This has wreaked havoc on numerous people employed by the federal government and is spilling over into the private sector as well. The question is, are we being well served by our elected officials?
Perhaps it is time to look at ways that we could mitigate the situation. Let’s start by examining the process by which we choose our elected officials. In the State of Delaware, we choose candidates in a primary election system that is flawed. As voters, we are required to choose a party in order to express our opinion on candidates that we wish to stand for election. This is an assumption that the party we chose would forward the best choice for our beliefs in all cases for local, state and national offices, when in reality we may like one candidate for a particular office from one party, and a different candidate for a different office from another. Also, the system disenfranchises voters who choose not to belong to any party and consider themselves independents. As a note, in Delaware about 47.5 percent identify as Democrat, 26 percent as Republican and the rest fall into the category as independent, not eligible to vote in the party-affiliated primary process. This leaves approximately 26 percent of the voters of this state with no choice in the primary process. This begs the question are we being well represented with the candidates chosen by the flawed primary system?
A potential system that could offer a way to mitigate the situation does exist. If we the people insist that the current primary system be modified to welcome the polled opinions of all the people at the primary level, we could avoid the pitfalls of the present system. Let us call it an open primary. The open primary would allow voters to cast a vote for any candidate to any office that is germane to the district where they vote. This would include all candidates for national, state and local elections regardless of party affiliation.
To further explain the current situation, in the most recent primary election held in the state, approximately 25.38 percent of registered Democrats voted in their primary. That represents approximately 12.25 percent of the state voters. Also, 19.66 percent of the Republicans or 5.11 percent of the state voters participated in their primary. Is this a fair or proper polling of the electorate for the general election? If all voters were polled it might be, but when 26 percent of the electorate is disenfranchised, it could potentially influence the election in every case.
It would be prudent to discuss where the open primary would benefit we the people. First, it would ensure that the current disenfranchised would be polled for their opinion by allowing all voters participation in the primary regardless of party affiliation. Second, it would encourage candidates to adopt positions that are less party-driven and more in tune with the population in general because all voters would have a choice for whom to vote. This would cause the candidates to seek positions that are in tune with the general constituency for the office to be filled. In addition, the prevailing candidate(s) would have to appeal to a wider base, we the people, and could not afford to be too parochial because they would be scrutinized by the voters in general and not some subset of a party.
Third, it would encourage the voters of the state to become involved in primary elections because it would take on greater importance in the elective process. Greater participation would mandate that the candidate be cognizant of the views held by the general electorate and seek positions that best meet these needs.
As a result of implementing such a policy, candidates for elected office would be less beholden to special interests and be better equipped to vote as we the people expect from our representatives. This would afford our elected officials greater latitude to find solutions to the myriad of issues that come to the floor and vote from their conscience and not parroting some inane party demand. It would free our representatives to do the job they were sent to do with less influence from special interests. In a republic, our electors are given a charge to represent us. We expect them to study the issues and become informed to make decisions on our behalf. We the people need to hold these representatives accountable for their actions, and we can and should remove those from office that either lack the talent or forthrightness to perform their duties. By having an open primary system, we can hear the debate of all candidates and find the best fit for our needs be it a local, state or national office. Perhaps, we the people may uncover some gem to represent us by being inclusive with all voters that have previously gone unnoticed in the present party-run system. If we don’t hear and see what is offered, how can we make intelligent decisions?
While bouncing around the idea of an open primary in casual conversation any number of concerns have been expressed, and they should all be held in the light of the public forum and debated. The reaction of the party faithful has been one of shock, as if they have never contemplated anything other than the party line. I have heard that, “It is not the way things are done in Delaware” and the answer is, exactly.
The folks that do not join a party have made their choice and removed themselves from the primary system is all too often heard as a response.
Is it a choice when only 12 percent of voters that is represented by 25.38 percent of the Democratic party that bother to vote in the primary and only 5 percent of the voters represented by 19.66 percent of the Republicans do the same? Perhaps we should figure out why so many of our fellow citizens eschew the opportunity, right and duty to participate in the public forum. It would appear that the voters of this great nation have abdicated their right to be heard, polled and counted. Why would anyone brag or tout that they represent the people when in essence they were advanced to general election by 5 or 12 percent vote of the people. All the people did not vote and 26 percent of them were disenfranchised. Not by choice but by party politics.
Let this be the first round fired in the debate, and as friends, neighbors, fellow citizens use our combined intellect to remove ourselves from the ranks of the complacent just shuffling along and move out with a purpose in our strident quest for better, more responsive government. To learn more, you may wish to contact: https://elections.delaware.gov/reports/pdfs/@70r2001_20181101.pdf.
It is time that we the people take back our responsibility for electing our representatives from the party ideologues and consider the whole picture. It is our responsibility to see that we have grounded, intelligent and thoughtful individuals to represent us. It is time to take a stand and enfranchise all the voters to assure good government with talented, well-rounded, sane representation.
Alan W. Roth is by profession a geographer, by avocation a historian, has for the last 30 years been a lecturer at the university and college level, is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Eastern Michigan University, and has lectured in every state in the union and the Province of Ontario, Canada.