Saturday, May 14, 2016

Primary Voting Still Too Low

I don't care what the papers are saying about Trump "getting the most primary votes ever" for the Republican nomination:

Politico's Kyle Cheney noticed something interesting about Donald Trump's big primary wins on Tuesday night. With a number of states still to vote — including the largest, California — Trump is poised to set a new record vote total in Republican presidential primaries. The current record is held by George W. Bush, with his 10.8 million votes in 2000. Trump, according to RealClearPolitics, is currently at a little north of 10 million.

If 10 million or 12 million or 15 million sounds like a lot to you, try some perspective:

Overall voter turnout for the primaries looks to be 29 percent of the registered count.

That's obscenely low.

Part of the problem is that the independent non-party voters cannot vote in Closed Primaries, which is most of them. A Closed Primary makes sense for a party to host because it encourages party membership... except that it doesn't. There is no way a majority of Party members - neither Republican NOR Democrat - are contributing their time and energy towards selecting their own party nominee.

It boils down to choices, and a lack of them. Let's be blunt, if the voters who DIDN'T SHOW UP for a Primary were counted as "No Confidence" None-Of-The-Above votes, none of the last remaining names would be standing. Nobody would be. Which is why we don't get "None of the Above" as a ballot choice.

There ought to be other ways - better ways like full holidays or mandating a minimum voter count before the elections can be closed and confirmed - to encourage higher participation. To me, higher participation means getting more voices involved, more choices offered up to appeal to the broader range of voters. As it stands right now, the only candidates who run are the ones who think they can appeal to the extremists as those extremists are the only ones guaranteed to show up to vote.

Which makes the rest of us suffer because we don't end up with good choices at all. Just desperate ones.

If we ever get a primary where over 50 percent of the voter population actually shows up, then I'll buy the argument that the will of the people is being heard and that the winning candidate is truly reflective of the national mood and momentum. Otherwise, they're all just weak offerings to the Old Gods and the New.


Infidel753 said...

A Closed Primary makes sense for a party to host because it encourages party membership

Actually, the main reason for closed primaries is not that they "encourage party membership", but simply that it makes sense for the nominee of each party to be chosen by the members of that party. If you aren't a Democrat, why should you have any say in who the Democratic nominee is? That holds true whether or not the effect is to increase the number of people who register as Democrats. It's the same logic as that by which, if you aren't American, you don't get to vote in American elections. The point isn't to encourage more people to become Americans, it's just that if you aren't a member of the group, you don't get to participate in the group's decisions.

One factor that drives down primary turnout is that the contest is generally over before the biggest states vote. Why should anyone in California bother to vote in the primary there? Trump is now unopposed and we already know Hillary is the near-certain Democratic nominee. And in most years the nominations are settled even earlier in the process than this time.

As it stands right now, the only candidates who run are the ones who think they can appeal to the extremists as those extremists are the only ones guaranteed to show up to vote.

There is empirical evidence to the contrary. Hillary doesn't appeal to extremists, and she's running. She is also winning, which shows that more non-extremists than extremists are voting in the Democratic primaries.

In fact, most Presidential candidates in American history have not been extremists, which shows that non-extremists routinely both run and win nominations.

Assuming for the sake of argument that a higher participation rate in primaries is desirable, one way to do that would be to get rid of caucuses, which are far more time-consuming for voters than primaries are and thus discourage participation. A universal vote-by-mail system like we have in Oregon would also probably help. I would certainly favor that for general elections, when it is indeed better if more people vote. As for primaries, the "will of the people" is irrelevant -- only the will of people who belong to that particular party should count.

Paul Wartenberg said...

valid points, Infidel, and ones I should have considered more thoroughly.

Still, I think we are better off if there was better turnout in primaries.

as you noted, our primary system - with confusing, ill-timed caucuses and with a schedule skewed to smaller and less representative states - is wrong and needs fixing. I still think a One-Day primary for all 50 states and territories would be a major improvement. and last I checked in 2008, very popular among over 70 percent of the national voters (even Iowans and New Hampshirians supported it).

dinthebeast said...

I think that voting reforms might be more likely to happen if one governing party out of two didn't do measurably better when fewer people vote.

-Doug in Oakland