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Primary is closed for a reason

MY VIEW • Letting nonparty members vote invites sabotage

We now have one more reason to kill the open primary. For the past several years, former Secretary of State Phil Keisling has been extolling the virtues of the open primary. Despite a plethora of scholarly literature that suggests it is a bad idea, Keisling and others have forged on, arguing that open primaries will elect more centrist politicians who can govern without being beholden to the polarized activists who vote in primaries. One criticism of the open primary is that it leaves open the possibility of sabatoge. Republicans (and independents) could vote for Democrats, and vice versa. If there were a weak GOP candidate, for example, and a solid Democratic candidate, the liberal Democrats could vote for the feeble Republican, in the hopes that he or she win. Then in November, the strong Democrat would defeat the impotent Republican. Advocates of the open primary have no credible response to this criticism, because there is none. Sure enough, Tuesday’s Mississippi Democratic primary is further evidence that the open primary is a bad idea. Mississippi is an open primary state, and sure enough, exit polls reveal that about 75 percent of the Republicans who voted in the Democratic primary voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. Why? Arguably because the state and national GOP is salivating at the prospect of running against her. They see her as vulnerable, divisive and beatable. Granted, exit poll data suggest that only 12 percent of the Democratic primary voters were registered Republicans, but even so, we may be talking about 50,000 GOP votes that went Clinton’s way, enough to contribute toward one delegate moving into the Clinton column. Make no mistake about it: There is a case for open primaries. They allow independents to vote in primaries, and in doing so, primary elections are likely to increase voter turnout. But increased voter participation is not a good by itself. To the contrary, the prospects of sabatoge by the opposition party should give pause to all citizens, regardless of party affiliation (or nonaffiliation). As the Democratic primary on May 20 approaches, Democrats, independents and Republicans should imagine what would happen if there were an open primary. Republicans would find no need to vote for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., since he has locked his party’s nomination. But they would have a great incentive to prolong the Democratic presidential infighting between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Given Obama’s popularity here, the Republicans would vote for Clinton, not because they are so fond of her, but because they would want the Democratic contest bickering to endure through May and June, all the way to the August convention in Denver. Closed primaries are not bad, and open primaries are not good. Oregon need not replicate Mississippi or Louisiana. Voter turnout, among voters of all stripes, appears to be on the rise. Our forthcoming primary is likely to prove pivotal in determining the Democratic nominee; open primaries would pollute this process by allowing for cross-party sabotage. Robert Eisinger is a political science professor at Lewis and Clark College and is the political analyst for KPAM (owned by Robert Pamplin, who also owns the Portland Tribune). He lives in Lake Oswego.