Open primaries encourage manipulation of democratic process

Kyle Seasly

Illustration: Ariel Carter-Rodriguez

About a week ago, my dad sent me an article encouraging Democrats in Michigan (my home state) to vote for Rick Santorum in the Republican primary. Since Michigan has an “open primary,” anyone can vote in the primary, even those not registered as Republicans. My father, a lifelong Democrat, joked that I should take the call seriously and vote absentee for Rick Santorum.

The goal behind this movement would be to 1) embarrass Mitt Romney with a defeat in his “home state” and 2) force Romney, current leader of the Republican contenders for president, to spend more money in other states because he would have to continue defending against Santorum, his only rival at this point in the election.

Although I love a good joke, especially when it involves Republicans, the idea begged the question of what kind of attitude electoral politics should adopt at this day and age considering the increasingly cutthroat tone politics has been taking of late.

This kind of voting is completely fair: Santorum even made announcements encouraging Democrats to vote for him, hailing the return of “Reagan Democrats,” who are frustrated with Obama’s policies but not with the Democratic party as a whole. In previous Republican primaries in Michigan, Democratic ballots have made up somewhere between six to 10 percent of the vote.

On the one hand, it is always funny to see Republicans, the party with a little more money than Democrats, tear each other apart, and throw money around like drunk parents at a high school graduation party. On the other, is it a healthy political system in which we need to cast our votes insincerely, using them strategically rather than to voice true support for a candidate?

A vote is the best path to citizen participation in a democracy. It’s the ultimate statement of authority, and everyone, thanks to Earl Warren, has an equal say regarding what happens in an election. To cast our votes insincerely, however, is to state that our democracy is not working correctly, requiring cheating to get the result we desire.

This is not to say that open primaries are a bad idea. Many of my friends who are not registered Republicans posted proud statuses on Facebook about whom they voted for in the Republican primary. These friends were sincere in their votes, and the open primary worked in their favor. Since none of them are registered Republicans, none of them would have been able to express their voice had the primary not been open to all voters.

Democracy is all about expressing your voice through your vote. Although it is a somewhat silly notion that our ultimate expression of freedom involves checking or punching a piece of paper, it is awesome that we have that ability. When people vote insincerely or for ulterior motives, it stains our whole democratic process as insincere.

As much as I would love for Mitt Romney to outspend himself before he meets Obama in the field of battle, it isn’t necessary for Democrats to vote insincerely. Voting is the last form where the citizen has complete control, more than campaign contributions, more than the media and more than ad campaigns since Citizens United. If we don’t take it seriously, we risk losing the last wholesome part of democracy.