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We need to escape party primaries and go open

The final runoff election has ended and that means another almost five months of campaigning until the November general election.

So now while we have time to breathe before the candidates crank up their “vote for me and I’ll set you free” campaigns for the general election, I want to take this opportunity to once again make the push for open primaries.

For those who don’t know, an open primary means everybody runs at once. There are no party primaries. Everyone, regardless of party, goes on one ballot and everyone can vote for whomever they wish. If one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, they win the office outright.

If there is no clear winner, the top two vote-getters go to the general election to decide the winner. Two elections, not three — in the case of party primaries that result in runoff elections.

I’ve been a proponent of open primaries since 1971 when then-Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards signed the state’s open primary bill into law and I became an independent.

Edwards’ initial reason for open primaries was purely political. At the time, the Republican Party in Louisiana was small and selected its nominees at a statewide caucus, while the Democrats, the state’s majority party, had to go through primaries and runoffs before the general election.

Edwards said he was no longer going to slug his way through the primaries while his Republican candidate took it easy waiting for the general election.

Louisiana’s open primary has worked well. True, the system opens the ballot up to a lot of unusual candidates, but Mississippi’s present system, or any system, invites the same set of characters.

I’ve brought this idea up before, and always received a litany of objections. One was that the state couldn’t go to open primaries because at the time it was U.S. Justice Department scrutiny. I pointed out Louisiana was under the same scrutiny and managed to pass open primary elections. Another was fear of cross-party voting where voters from one party will cross party lines to eliminate a strong candidate from the other party. That can happen now under the state’s election laws, where voters declare their party affiliation when they show up at the polls to vote.

Another problem with party primaries is they prohibit someone from voting for the candidates of their choice. Some may argue that voters can already do that under the present system, but what if voter favors a Republican for one office and a Democrat for another?

No one can argue that hasn’t happened before, where voters find themselves torn by which party to declare because they support candidates for different offices in each party primary; it becomes a case of flipping a coin to decide which way to turn and who to support. An open primary would eliminate that crisis of conscience.

Having open primary elections is more equitable for the voters because they only have to choose a candidate and vote for the person they believe is the best for the job.

Party primaries are a bit ridiculous in this day and time. They need to be eliminated.


John Surratt is a staff writer for The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at john.surratt@vicksburgpost.com.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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