A Legislator Who Gets Primary Elections

Today, in the Salt Lake Tribune there is a story that contains what one might consider a mild political gaffe, in the sense that a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth about something that normally politicians don’t talk about.

Representative John Dougall said that the political parties should pony up and pay for primary elections because these elections are private elections to select representatives in the general election.  Specifically,

he wants to see the Republican and Democratic parties keep their independence when it comes to nominating candidates. But to do that, he says, they may have to give up $3 million in taxpayer financing for their primaries.

“I think the parties should be private, and that means you foot your own bill,” he said.

To give some background here, Utah has a system where candidates for office are selected in party caucuses at the local and state levels.  These caucuses are contentious on both sides because it is the activist wing of both parties that attend, swamping the more moderate wings of the parties.  For example, in 2010, then Senator Bennett had high support among Republican voters in the state but he was defeated badly in the caucus and was off the ballot.

Recently, at the Republican state convention,  conservatives elected their own candidates for several high-ranking party positions, defeating candidates endorsed by the party leadership.  There have also been suggestions that the state move to a primary election system, where candidates would file and run in contested primary elections with a run-off, as is done commonly across the US.

In studying election administration for the past decade, the issue of primary elections is often contentious because — in states with closed primary elections — independent voters and voters who are decline to state voters do not understand why they cannot vote in the primary election of their choosing.   After all, the state is ponying up the tax dollars to pay for the election and the election is being certified by government employees and run by quasi-government employees (the poll workers who will also work the general election).

Representative Dougall makes a very good case for why states with closed primaries should not pay for the elections.  If the party — a private organization — wants to hold an election, let them pay for it.