I was walking home from my polling place a few primary elections ago, when I ran into my 85-year-old landlady, on her way to vote.
“Can you vote for Republicans and Democrats?” she asked me.
“Nope,” I said. “You have to choose one party.”
“Oh, shoot,” she replied. “I have ideas on both of them.”
Gov. Pat Quinn has a new plan to make my landlady happy. He wants Illinois to adopt an open primary system. Voters would no longer have to declare a party affiliation, and could mix and match their ballots, voting in the Republican primary for governor and the Democratic primary for Senate.
California, which leads the nation in Ideas Whose Times Have Come, went even further than that this month. Voters there approved an all-comers primary. Candidates from both parties will now run on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election. By encouraging independent voters to vote in primaries, the new system is expected to produce candidates closer to the political center.
In Illinois, an open primary would be a boon to Republicans. First of all, Chicago Republicans could finally have a say in local races for state representative and county board -- which are determined in the Democratic primary -- while still voting in their own party’s primary for governor and Senate. Also, an open primary would prevent Tea Party activists from controlling nominations. Bill Brady would not have won a primary that welcomed independent voters. Mark Kirk would not have been forced to repudiate his support of cap-and-trade or vote for the Stupak Amendment to appease a conservative GOP primary electorate.
The Democrats are going to hate Quinn’s bill, which is why it won’t succeed. Democratic ward organizations want to know who voted in their party’s primary, so they can target those voters with phone calls and mailings, and hit them up for donations.
Illinois has always been a radically moderate state. We have gay-friendly Republicans and gun-friendly Democrats. We’ve avoided the partisan extremism that has turned other state legislatures into culture war battlegrounds. Open primaries would ensure we stay that way.