July 29, 2002 Voice of the Times says it's time for closed primary system

Posted: Monday, August 05, 2002

Some voters have their knickers in a knot over the new primary election system, which no longer allows them to participate in every party's selection of candidates.

Alaska now has what many call a closed primary, a system that requires voters to select a party and then choose between candidates on that party's ballot. In previous years all the candidates were listed on the same ballot and everybody got to vote in any contest they liked.

The open primary was around for many years, dating back to territorial days. In the past it made a lot of sense. There were fewer parties, fewer candidates and a smaller Legislature before statehood. Candidates were often selected for their personal appeal as much as their party philosophies. And since Alaskans were united on the big issues like statehood, the party approach counted for little.

But today's world is quite different and a candidate's political leanings are an important consideration. Personal appeal will always be a factor, but knowing what a candidate thinks and who his or her friends and supporters are have become more important than ever before.

For that reason, it is vitally important for voters to know what a candidate stands for and will work for while in office. Party affiliation and philosophy is a vital guide in deciding which candidates should get your vote. And members of other parties should not get to vote for or against candidates in opposing parties.

The new primary election system is the right one for this time and place.

It may, however, need further improvement. For instance, there will be no option on any of the six ballots for adding write-in candidates. It would be worthwhile, and seems unlikely to damage the new system, if voters could add names to their own party's ballot if they chose.

Other system tweaks are also needed, including moving initiative votes to the general election. That would allow unaligned voters to have their say on initiatives without enrolling in a party, which is required if they vote in the primary.

Over all, however, the new system is a big improvement from the old blanket primary.

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