Saturday, July 20, 2013

Not the Time to Declare for Independents

You probably saw earlier this week that once again the idea of allowing independents to vote in Republican primaries has reared its head. It's something that we discussed at length on this week's episode of Red Maryland Radio, but I believe that it merits additional and further discussion.


First, a little background on election law in the state of Maryland. Here is § 8-202 of the Maryland Election Law as it relates to Primary Elections:
§ 8-202. Political parties using the primary.
(a) In general. — A principal political party, as determined by the statement
of registration issued by the State Board:
      (1) shall use the primary election to:
            (i) nominate its candidates for public office; and
            (ii) elect all members of the local central committees of the political party; and
      (2) may use the primary election in the year of a presidential election to elect delegates to a       national presidential nominating convention.
(b) Requirements for nominees.— Except for a nominee for President or Vice President, the name of a nominee of a principal political party may not appear on the ballot in a general election if the individual has not:
      (1) been nominated in the primary election; or
      (2) been designated to fill a vacancy in nomination in accordance with Subtitle 5 of this title.
(c) Process to allow voting by persons unaffiliated with party. — If a political party chooses to permit voters not affiliated with the party to vote in the party’s primary election, the chairman of the party’s State central committee shall so notify the State Board at least 6 months before the date of the primary election. (An. Code 1957, art. 33, § 8-202; 2002, ch. 291, §§ 2, 4; 2003, ch. 22; 2006, ch. 44; 2008, ch. 118.)
That's why the parties have the ability to decide who may and who may not vote, and the decision is up to the State Central Committee. The State Party, regardless of how they go on this issue, has to make a decision allowing independents to vote in our primary at the Fall Convention; as noted in § 8-202 (c), the Chairman has to notify the State Board of Elections by December 24th, the six-month date prior to the primary election.

All of that being said, the idea of allow independents to vote in a Republican primary is categorically bonkers for any number of reasons, but I think the best way that it has been described was by Greg on Thursday's show when he described it as a "gimmick", one of many gimmicks that have been floated over the course of the last few years to change the way the Party does business for the sake of changing something instead of changing the way that the party does business towards a defined goal or outcome. Lots of "people" say that the entire reason we should open up the system to independents is that it will somehow (magically) increase votes for Republican candidates at the general election. However in 2000 (the one year that this cockamamie idea was tried) this is what the numbers reflected:
  • 1996: Clinton 54%, Dole 38%, Perot 7%
  • 2000: Gore 57%, Bush 40%, 
  • 2004: Kerry 56%, Bush 43%
Basically, if you account for the placement of a major 3rd-party candidate on the ballot in 1996, George W. Bush underperformed in the General Election in 2000 when independents were allowed to vote in our primary.

There was no U.S. Senate race to compare to in 1996, but let us now compare the 2000 U.S. Senate general election results to the 2004 results and 2006 results:
  • 2000: Sarbanes 63%, Rappaport 37%
  • 2004: Mikulski  65%, Pipkin 34%
  • 2006: Cardin 54%, Steele 44%, Zeese 1.5%
Once again the highest performing year among these three races was the year in which there were no independents voting in the Republican Primary. (And that of course says nothing of the fact that the only statewide election that we have won in the last twenty-five years, Bob Ehrlich's 2002 election as Governor, there were no independents voting in that primary, either).

So basically, anybody promising that allowing independents to vote is going to turn into Republican results at the ballot box is basically talking out of their backside; the numbers do not lie folks.

Here's the problem with this entire cockamamie idea; it is an admission of surrender. In the Sun article, Don Murphy is quoted as saying "If we continue with the status quo, we're going to get the same outcome. … What's the point of winning the primary if you're going to lose the general?". As a general statement, I agree with that. However the issue with doing the status quo in this regard doesn't mean that you change the rules of defining what is and what is not a Republican, and you sure as heck do not dilute the ability of registered Republicans to decide who the candidate of our party is going to be in a general election. Where the status quo has to be changed is in the fields of fundraising, of message development, of candidate recruitment, and of tactics. Because it really doesn't matter who votes in the primary, if we don't improve those areas none of it will make a difference at the ballot box in November 2014.

The damn shame of all of this, however, is the fact that this entire discussion about letting independents vote in the primary is distracting from those very issues that actually will define what is electoral success in 2014.  We can't worry about fundraising, message development, candidate recruitment, or tactics when we are distracted by this kind of stuff. Roughly an hour was spent at last week's State Party Executive Committee meeting on this issue, and not even the main point of this issue but the idea on whether or not a committee should be formed to study this issue. Furthermore, even if a committee did go forth and provide a recommendation to open the primary up to independents, the issue is almost certainly dead on arrival when it arrives on the floor of the state party convention because it does not have nearly enough support from Central Committee membership for serious consideration.

This entire discussion about opening up the primaries to independents is a colossal waste of time. No matter what the Executive Committee discusses, no matter how Chairman Diana Waterman decides on the formation of a committee, no matter what the Central Committee decides to do at the Fall Convention, all of this discussion about it will ultimately be a waste of time. We do need to come up with better ways to reach out to independents. We do need to come up with strategies that better highlight our opposition to the Democratic machine in Annapolis and show how Republican governance is both better and different than the nannystatism that is coming out of our state government. But here's the bottom line folks; this entire discussion of opening the primaries will ultimately not move one single voter into the Republican column. None whatsoever. We are less than a year from the Republican primary, and we are 472 days until the General Election. Why is so much time being spent talking about something that distracts us from the important work that will actually help us next November 4th?

I would invite those folks who are championing this idea to return from Fantasy Island and join us back here trying to come up with actual solutions that will help Republicans win next November.

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