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Editorial: Time To Change To Open Primaries in Connecticut

Editorial: Time To Change To Open Primaries in Connecticut

Connecticut will hold a political primary in one week and once again most of the state’s registered voters will have to sit it out.

That's because the state’s two major parties continue to opt for a strict closed primary process. Only Democrats and Republicans can vote in their respective party primaries. The unaffiliated, the state’s biggest voting block, cannot participate.

We continue to urge the parties to open their primaries so that unaffiliated voters can take part by choosing one of the party primaries to vote in.

Party leaders fear that allowing unaffiliated voters to participate will remove a big incentive to join a party and accelerate the trend toward voters who choose not to be registered with a party. But if the rule is meant to be an incentive, it is not working well. A couple of weeks ago the Office of the Secretary of the State reported that voter registration has swelled since the 2016 election, with 275,114 new people signed up to vote — 43,390 as Republicans and 81,908 as Democrats.

That left 149,816 not affiliated with either major party, the vast majority of them remaining unaffiliated, a small percentage joining third parties.

Unaffiliated voters back to top

Republican and Democratic leaders should think about what they are losing by not allowing unaffiliated voters to take part in their primaries. If an unaffiliated voter opts to participate in one primary or the other, he or she is more likely to become vested in the outcome and to stick with their candidates and with the party in the general election.

It would not be a good idea, as is the case in some states, to allow voters registered in one party to vote in the other party’s primary. Party faithful would be tempted to create havoc by voting to elect the weakest candidates from the other party. That risk would be much diminished by opening the primaries to unaffiliated voters, who largely will be motivated to participate because they are excited by a particular candidate.

It is fair to note that a voter can switch from unaffiliated to a party label to vote in a primary and then switch back to their unaffiliated status after the vote. That step, however, places a needless hurdle in front of voters who feel more comfortable forgoing a party label.

Twenty-three states have some form of open primary. Connecticut Democrats and Republicans would do well to join them.