Let the parties pay for primaries

October 29, 2006|By Dave Reich

Feeling betrayed by the original party of my choice, I became an "unaffiliated" voter several years ago, adding my small contribution to the message of "a pox on both your houses" that many had sent before me.

Because I am not a member of a party, I cannot vote in Maryland's primary elections. This suits me just fine.

What does not sit well with me is that I - and hundreds of thousands of Marylanders like me - still have to pay for government-run primary elections.

I would suggest that party primaries be just that: party primaries, which would be totally financed and run by the political parties. The public at large should not have to pay for them and should have no say in how they are run. It should be entirely up to the party how they come up with their candidates to run in the general election.

Let's say the Democrats want to run their primary on the second Monday in July from sunup to sundown, requiring no voter ID, holding the vote in homeless shelters, while Republicans want to run theirs on every Wednesday in April from 6 to 9 a.m., requiring three forms of voter ID, with voting in gun clubs.

Well, why not? It should be nobody else's business, anymore than the Elks should have a say in how and when the Lions hold their elections. And why should the Rotary Club have to contribute to either of their processes? The point is that the integrity of the system by which any party brings its candidates to the general election need only satisfy its own members, and the cost and monitoring of that process should rest entirely on their shoulders.

As for the general election, while it must continue to be financed by the general public at both national and state levels, there are changes needed there as well.

First, there must be some uniform, universally applied form of voter ID instituted. The claptrap suggesting that requiring ID somehow overly burdens the poor and elderly is insulting nonsense designed to accommodate the indolent and irresponsible. If voting is such a precious right, then keeping track of one's voter ID card should not be too much to ask.

Second, the myriad and muddled maze of campaign finance laws and rules serves only to encourage, and thereby ensure, corruption and obfuscation, and should be abandoned. There need be virtually no restrictions or limitations on campaign contributions - only full, clear disclosure of their source.

Finally, since not everyone can have a holiday for Election Day, no one should have one. Government and municipal employees have always had unfair representation and effect on elections because they, more than any other group, are usually given the day off. This, of course, would move polling places out of schools, which should be kept in session. We instead could use church halls, VFW halls, bingo halls, reception halls and the like.

If, as a practical matter, we must keep voting in schools, then teachers and administrators should not be given a day off, and because they would still be paid and not teaching that day, they should be charged with the responsibility of running the polling places. This would give us a large number of qualified workers who would be able to understand any method of voting that would be thrown at them. And because Maryland still has its ridiculous mandatory-volunteerism requirement for high school graduation, students could also help in the endeavor and get credit for it.

But first things first: Let's fix the primaries. Making primary elections totally private affairs of the parties would leave our boards of elections only one election per cycle to concentrate on - and screw up.

Dave Reich lives in Perry Hall.

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