Plan to allow vote for person not party needed in state

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 18, 2007

The old admonition of “Be careful what you wish for …” comesto mind when thinking about the ramifications of a recent courtruling on Mississippi’s primary voting system.

In a lawsuit brought by Democrats concerned about Republicansvoting in their primaries and trying to manipulate electionoutcomes, a federal judge ordered the state to develop a partyregistration and voter identification system. The judge gave statelawmakers until April 1, 2008, to enact laws implementing hisorders.

Barring a successful appeal, the ruling would mean all statevoters would have to reregister. Mississippi voters – many of whomhave long espoused the theory of voting “for the person not theparty” – could reregister as independents, but it would be up toparty leaders to decide whether independents could vote in theirprimaries.

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If Democrats persist in their recent quest for “party purity,”many voters could find the stance distasteful and simply registeras independents. That, plus a Democratic decision to bar non-partymembers from its primaries, could shrink party numbers and createdifficulties in attracting new people to their cause.

Of course, much of this is speculation as some aspects of thejudge’s ruling remain to be clarified and an appeal is stillpossible.

And getting a voter ID measure through a Mississippi Legislaturethat has rejected it in years past certainly will be a politicalbattle worth watching. Surely Democratic lawsuit plaintiffs did notexpect the judge to make voter ID – a measure they have longopposed due to alleged voter intimidation consequences – acomponent of his ruling.

While a voter ID system is needed to help deter election fraud,barriers like having to declare a party and a primary system thatprohibits people from voting for the candidate of their choice runthe risk of increasing voter apathy and causing more people to juststay home on election day. This outcome would be particularlytroublesome on a political landscape where a 50 percent voterturnout is considered great.

What is needed is a real open primary system where candidates ofall parties run at the same time, with the top two vote-gettersadvancing to the general election to decide the winner.

This would be an alternative to the current system beingtinkered with in the state, but past legislative efforts to enactsuch a system have been unsuccessful. That’s a shame – because asystem that truly allows a person to vote “for the person and notthe party” is the most fair and democratic plan we can imagine.