The latest machinations related to the quadrennial “First in the South” presidential primary have renewed the debate over whether South Carolina should continue hosting “open” partisan primary elections … or, alternatively, force its voters to choose a partisan affiliation before casting their ballots.
Partisans on both sides of the aisle support closing the state’s primaries (i.e. limiting participation in these elections to those who register with a particular party).
Do we think such elections should be closed? No.
Certainly not as long as state taxpayers are subsidizing them …
In fact, we have previously editorialized that South Carolinians should be allowed to vote in both the GOP and Democratic presidential primaries – in the same year if they choose.
“Last time we checked, people can have multiple preferences … and they ought to be allowed to express those preferences as they see fit in non-exclusive elections,” we wrote in the run-up to the 2016 election cycle.
But for us, this issue goes well beyond the circus that descends upon South Carolina every four years …
Every two years, partisan primary elections are held in the Palmetto State for various in-state offices. Depending on where you live (and in which year the election is being held), these biennial contests could include candidates running at the state, congressional, legislative and local levels.
In other words, in a given primary election you could be asked to choose your preferred candidate for governor, member of congress, state representative and sheriff … among other races.
Such a wide range of electoral choices ought to afford voters maximum flexibility. In South Carolina, though, there is no “ticket splitting” in primary elections. Once you decide to vote for a Republican candidate (or a Democratic one), the die is cast for you as it relates to the rest of your ballot selections.
“No splits,” one election official described it to us.
That means if you have a favored candidate for governor who is running in a Republican primary – but your favored candidate for sheriff is running in the Democratic primary – you are out of luck.
You have to pick one primary election or another in which to vote.
Is that fair? No.
Similarly, once you have voted in a Republican or Democratic primary election you cannot cross over and participate in the other party’s runoff election two weeks later.
You are locked out …
(In South Carolina partisan primary elections, runoff races are held between the two top vote-getters in the event no candidate receives a majority of votes on the first ballot).
So if your favored GOP candidate for governor wins their primary election but the Democratic candidate you wanted to support for sheriff (but couldn’t) still needs help in a runoff election … you cannot vote for them.
Is that fair? Again, no.
(Click to view)
(Via: Getty Images)
Limiting choices at the polls is by definition anti-Democratic. Un-American. Wrong.
Look, we understand the perspective of party purists. They want to be able to choose their nominees without any interference from “outsiders.” Again, though, taxpayers are subsidizing these elections. Also, state law has subjugated itself to the rules of the parties in carrying them out (err … usually). Finally, most general elections in the Palmetto State offer voters no other choices.
They must decide between either the Republican or the Democratic candidate … which puts added pressure on both partisan primary processes to maximize electoral availability and integrity.
Also, given the extent to which districts are gerrymandered in South Carolina, the party primary elections often afford voters their only opportunity to participate in anything resembling a competitive race …
Why deny them that?
Bottom line? South Carolina should not close its primary elections. In fact, it should open them further by allowing ticket-splitting and crossover voting in its runoff elections. This would expand voter options (and participation), which we believe is in keeping the the democratic ideal …
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