Posted on February 29, 2008


A Delegate Situation

Parties exercise no self-control


Daniel Clark


Groucho Marx used to say that he refused to join any club that would have him as a member. Following that rule, he could have registered with either of our major political parties without fear of contradiction.

elephants and donkeys, in their pajamas

No organization that isn't directly involved in government would choose its leaders the way the Republicans and Democrats do. The NRA, for example, would never invite members of Sarah Brady's organization to cast ballots in its elections. Only the political parties -- the same people who are responsible for the federal tax code, Social Security and the National Endowment for the Arts -- could be so bereft of logic and integrity as to allow their most important decisions to be made in part by their enemies.

As usual, the Republican presidential nomination was all but decided after only about a dozen states had voted. Many of those early states held open primaries, which means that some Democrats and independents had more of a say in picking the Republican nominee than most Republicans did.

With their own party's nomination already in the bag, large numbers of Republicans are now participating in the Democrat primaries in those states where they're allowed. That means a Republican voter in Texas may cast a meaningful ballot in the Democrats' nominating process, but not in that of his own party.

Perhaps even more vexing to registered voters from both parties is the fact that some states allow registered independents into their primaries as well. Common sense dictates that you can't have a nominee if you don't even have a party. But then, if everyone had common sense, it would be called unanimous sense. Since it's not, that means there are people who haven't got it. As a result, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of independents have been allowed to participate in the primaries, while continuing to smugly consider themselves to be above partisan politics.

Moreover, the Republican and Democrat primaries have been crashed by members of minor parties, representing libertarians, vegetarians, octogenarians, and probably even the Mad Hungarian for all we know. People who otherwise disdain the two-party system suddenly decide to become donkeys and elephants for a day, and they're allowed to get away with it, without being required to do so much as knock on the door and say "swordfish." Even Triple-A has more stringent membership rules than that.

Incredibly, both parties passively allow their voting bases to be diluted in this manner, while at the same time effectively locking huge percentages of their own voters out of the process. Consequently, millions of Americans are discovering that, in the spirit of Groucho, they belong to parties that refuse to have them as members.

The development of this predicament has been aided by the parties' natural proclivity to pass the buck. Since open primary laws are the result of state legislation, the national parties don't regard the matter as any of their business. If they really wanted to take control of the process, however, they could do so easily, and the Democrats have recently shown us how.

a primary voter, in its natural habitat

By refusing to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida, the Democratic Party is dictating primary election laws to the states. Those two states had moved their primaries ahead on the calendar, against the wishes of the parties, which are determined to protect the special status of traditional early primary states. The Republican Party reacted by cutting the numbers of delegates from the offending states in half, whereas the Democrats eliminated them altogether.

There's no good reason the same shouldn't be done to restore the integrity of the nominating process. If a state allows members of one party to vote in another party's primary, lets registered independents cast primary ballots, conducts voter registrations at the polling stations on election day, or declines to even require voters to identify their party affiliations, then that state should be stripped of its delegates.

If the Democrats think that's a fitting punishment for committing a faux pas against the town of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, then neither party ought to have any compunction about imposing it on states that corrupt the process by inviting the wrong people into it. Sure, that would leave a small number of states to select the presidential nominees, but that's what's happening already. The difference is in whether the two major parties want to stand up for their own interests, or to preserve the same arcane procedures and provincial jealousies that have made the current system the farce that it is.

-- Daniel Clark is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.



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