OUR OPINION: Time to consider an open primary

By NEMS Daily Journal

Last week’s party primaries produced at least one strong argument in favor of changing the system under which we operate.
Only slightly more than four in 10 Mississippi voters cast ballots in the Republican primary, yet they alone effectively decided who the next lieutenant governor will be.
Since Tate Reeves and Billy Hewes were competing in the GOP primary and no Democrat qualified to run, Reeves as the nominee has clear sailing in the November general election with only a Reform Party candidate with zero chance of winning in the way.
If Mississippi had an open primary, those who voted in the Democratic primary because of local races could instead have cast ballots for, say, a Democratic candidate for sheriff and then chosen between the two Republicans for lieutenant governor.
Party purists will say that primaries are functions of the parties, and as such they are party loyalists nominating candidates to face the other party in the general election.
That would be a logical and perhaps convincing argument if Mississippi required voters, as many states do, to declare themselves Republican or Democrat when they register and then vote in those primaries only, or register as an independent and vote only in the general election.
But we don’t. Mississippians don’t declare a party, and we can vote in whichever primary we choose, so the idea of these primaries being party functions is vastly diluted.
An open primary would place all candidates on the same ballot, with their party allegiance noted, and the top two finishers, regardless of party, advancing to a runoff to settle the winner.
The party loyalists don’t like this because it mixes everybody into the same pot and doesn’t allow for a united party effort behind a single candidate in the general election.
But based on observations by voters at most every election cycle, most Mississippians would appreciate the opportunity to cast ballots from the first round of voting on for the candidate they preferred in each individual race, as opposed to choosing one party over the other for every office.
The Mississippi Legislature actually adopted an open primary law back in the 1970s but it never passed U.S. Justice Department muster under the federal Voting Rights Act because it was seen as an effort to keep black independents from winning three-way general election races. But times have changed, and another try would be worth it.
It won’t happen, though, because of the strident partisanship of the times – one more example of where party concerns stand in the way of what most people would prefer.