Posted by Caitlin Kelly on June 26, 2015 at 11:13 AM
Poll: Should New Jersey and Pennsylvania switch to open primary elections?
New Jersey voters going to the polls in Tuesday's primary election were limited in their choices: Republicans could vote for Republicans, Democrats could vote for Democrats.
Period. That's the way a "closed" primary works, and it effectively prevents almost half of the state's voters, who are registered as independents or other parties, from having a say in nominating candidates.
Pennsylvania runs under the same closed system, which proponents say is essential to maintain a healthy two-party system.
But what we have now is an unhealthy two-party system, based on voter interest. Turnout in non-presidential years is embarrassing. In the May 19 Pennsylvania primary, less than 13 percent of registered voters in Northampton County took part.
Worse, closed primaries tend to multiply the effect of party dominance, in areas where one party fields experienced candidates and the other struggles to get anyone on the ballot. This imbalance is further aggravated by gerrymandering, the redrawing of legislative districts to favor a majority party and incumbents.
Warren and Hunterdon counties, traditional Republican strongholds, often settle the issue of who gets elected in the primary elections, if Democrats fail to put up candidates.
In open primaries, voters of any affiliation may vote on either primary ballot -- or they get to go through the ballot and pick and chose whether to vote Democratic or Republican by office. Two nonprofit groups and seven voters in New Jersey are currently suing the state to "unlock" closed elections on constitutional grounds. Although they lost the first round in federal district court last year, a federal appeals court agreed to take on the case.
Some states, including California, hold "top two" primaries. All candidates are listed on one primary ballot and everyone can vote for them. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, run against each other in the November election.
Open? Closed? Top-two? Something has to be done to rekindle interest -- and faith -- in American elections. Reforming the redistricting process is a critical first step. Getting more people involved in the nominating process, and encouraging more candidates to run in primary elections, is one way to draw people back in.
What do you think? Have a say in our poll, and feel free to join the conversation.