Reg Henry: We should just vote to abolish primaries

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I am writing this on Pennsylvania primary election day and the excitement is palpable. Be still, my throbbing heart, I must rush to the polls.

I arrive at the church where the wall of separation between church and state has been lowered for purposes of polling, which is reasonable. But where are the crowds of voters?

It is about as crowded as the bar at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Christmas party. The poll workers, those dear folks who serve as clergy in the temple of democracy, outnumber the voters by a big margin.

I declare my registration: Republican. It might surprise other voters of my acquaintance, but none are nearby. In truth, I am a RINO -- not the usual Republican In Name Only, but instead a Republican Intelligent Not Obtuse. Yes, you can argue about the intelligent part.

My Republican registration dates back 26 years. I had become an American citizen sworn to renounce and abjure all allegiance to foreign princes and potentates etc. -- which, by the way, the foreign potentate community has never forgiven me for -- and it was time to choose my affiliation while registering as a voter.

Independent seemed the way to go, as I am not much for political parties anyway. But my wife made it clear that her family had been Republican since Lincoln was a boy. If I did not shape up and do the right thing, marital privileges might seriously be in jeopardy.

Well, am I a man or a mouse? So, squeak, squeak, I registered as a Republican, because when it comes to marital privileges, I like a hot dinner as much as the next husband.

It's hard, of course, and often embarrassing (thank you, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry). But even as the party grew angrier and less rational, I endured in the belief that there was nothing wrong with the GOP that some liberals in it couldn't fix. Liberals were common in the party back when it was sane, but we have gone the way of the passenger pigeon.

If you are a true GOP stalwart, the sort of person who thought Sarah Palin highly intelligent, it is probably about now in the column that you are saying: "This guy shouldn't be voting in Republican primaries."

Guess what? You are right. But you can rest easy, because in this primary Republican voters in my area had almost nothing to vote for: a governor opposed by a write-in candidate, some unopposed lawmakers, some committee people. To someone like me who thinks of voting as an act of civic communion, it was like going to the altar and finding that they had run out of bread.

But even in the best of times, primaries are ridiculous. It's not just me who shouldn't be voting in them, it's everybody. If you were born in this country, primaries may not seem odd to you, but in the places I lived previously -- Australia, Britain -- nothing so goofy could be imagined. Why have two elections a year? And what business does a state have in running elections for parties?

Primaries haven't always existed here. They are relics of the progressive movement, which sought to get party bosses out of the equation and let the people decide. Bet they are sorry now.

For Republicans in particular, primaries have become contests to see who can be the biggest Neanderthal, an honor not so much appreciated by voters in the general election. Genghis Khan would be accused of being a liberal if he ran in a GOP primary.

Pennsylvania is a state that limits voting in a primary to registered party members. This absurd disenfranchisement of independents has led some states to adopt open primaries. The idea that people not registered with the party should vote in an election for the purpose of picking the party candidate is a double absurdity.

Here's an idea: Have parties pick their own candidates on their own dime, not the state's, in their own way with their own members, maybe using a democratic caucus model. A state like Pennsylvania could save a ton of money by running only general elections and perhaps save us all from the extra bout of poisonous political TV ads every year.

By reducing state-run elections to once a year, people might actually come to regard voting as something special, not commonplace. More voters might go to the polls and with less risk of dying of loneliness. Their hearts might actually throb and enthusiasm might be palpable, not pathetic.


Reg Henry: rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668.

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