Don’t waste your vote in another party’s primary

Sam Groves

Texas is one of 15 states that hold open primaries, which allow voters to cast their ballots in whichever party’s nominating contest they choose — regardless of previous affiliation. Even if you’ve voted in Democratic primaries all your life, you can get a Republican primary ballot if you request one, and vice versa.

It’s easy to see the problem with this. Maybe you’re a devout Republican, but you don’t particularly care which of your candidates gets nominated. On the other hand, you want your nominee to face the weakest possible opponent in the general election. So you cross over — which is easy if you’re in Texas — and vote for the biggest clown you can find on the Democratic ballot. You’re very clever.

This is called party raiding, and there are various motivations for it. Sometimes people do it to help ensure that the opposing party’s nominee isn’t someone they see as a dangerous extremist. Sometimes people do it to prolong the opposing party’s primary battle. But no matter what the motivation, this tactic is a bad idea.

For one thing, it’s undemocratic. You wouldn’t want voters from another party influencing the outcome of your party’s primary any more than you’d want agents from another country influencing the outcome of your country’s presidential election (perish the thought). Ideally, primary elections produce nominees that best represent their parties. That doesn’t always happen in reality, but trying to drown out honest voices in the opposing party with your own malicious noise just makes things worse — and it shows bad faith in the electoral process.

Moreover, you’re wasting your vote. There’s no historical evidence of party raiding actually working, even when there’s a concerted effort among voters. Late in the 2008 Democratic primary, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh launched something he called “Operation Chaos,” wherein he encouraged his listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. His intent was to prolong an already bruising contest between Clinton and Barack Obama, but according to James Henson, director of UT’s Texas Politics Project, the effort was “certainly not enough to affect the nomination process.”

The open primary system offers plenty of benefits. In some ways, it’s more democratic because it offers everyone, not just the party faithful, a chance to participate in the candidate selection process. It also fosters a more dynamic political culture by making it easier to switch parties. But party raiding is a cynical ploy that muddles the process of a free and fair election, and it doesn’t work. So when you vote in the Texas primaries in the coming week, instead of wasting your vote by trying to game the system, cast your ballot for candidates you sincerely support.

Groves is a philosophy junior from Dallas. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @samgroves.