Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why Do We Pay For Primaries?

Candidates are already jockeying for position for state and local elections. Democrat, Republican, and Independent; they present themselves for positions for at-large City Council seats and for Mayor here in Toledo, while Congressional and Senate seats that are also up for grabs in this next election are a constant source of speculation as to who can beat who heads up. 
This got me thinking about the election process in general, and these preliminaries in particular. You see before we know it, it will be time for the political primaries. For some reason, the United States seems to have developed as a two party system. There is no real reason for this that I can discover, as there is nothing in the Constitution that mandates or limits the political process to two parties, and many other countries around the world seem to have made a multi-party system work; but it seems that this has been so almost since we first elected a president. 

Beginning with the Democratic-Republicans (curious when we see the two parties using those names today) who wanted a weak central government, a single opposition party grew, the Federalists who wanted a strong central government. Political parties came and went over the years, with such parties as the Anti-Masonic Party (1826-38), the Whig party (1833-56), one of my personal favorites the American party (known as the No-Nothings) (1854-58), the Socialist party of America (1901-73), with the current Democratic Party being formed in 1828, and the current Republican Party having been formed in 1854. 

And while we have often had more than three parties at any one time and there are some 3rd party candidates who have taken quite serious runs at offices in the US over the years (very occasionally even succeeding), for the most part the competition for elected office in the US has generally been a two party battle in this country. The point that I would like to make however is not that the two party system is good or bad, but that these two political parties appear to be quite capable to raise money to elect candidates, raise money to participate in conventions to decide on platforms, and raise even more money to choose candidates to run in their names at conventions. They even attempt to ask for my money from time to time in these efforts (I always refuse), but they never really ask for my input except to request my vote for their candidates on election day. 

They are not run by the government nor really for the government, but the preliminary internal elections that they have to choose their candidates are never the less paid for by the government. So you see, as a registered Independent (and card carrying Libertarian) I have to ask myself why any government money (you know, my money) is being used by either the Democratic and Republican Parties to hold these primaries, especially since I don't get to vote in either.

 Don't get me wrong. I want them to be able to field good candidates to chose from. I want them to be able to debate, share their views, and go through a process of choice to get the best people to run for office. I simply do not understand why this is a cost that should be picked up by the taxpayer rather than the party in question. Third party candidates do not get to utilize such government resources in challenging this two party monetary monopoly. Libertarians as an example, have to spend their own party funds to nominate their candidates. Heck, they have to spend a great deal of their party's funding to even get on the ballot in most cases, let alone to choose a candidate to do so. I see no reason therefore why membership in a one political party over another should rate special funding in running for office. 

Looking back at the amount of money spent during the last election cycle (the largest in history), I can see no reason why this can't be be the case. Both traditional parties proved themselves remarkably adroit in raising funds for campaigns, in spite of the current restrictions of campaign finance law. If that is so, let them raise the money to select their candidates as well. 

Certainly in these days of government funding cut backs and budget crunches, there is ample reason to remove this burden from city, state, and federal budgets. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate this part of the electoral process. Perhaps in these days of hope and change it's time to divorce the political process from these two traditional parties that have not served it particularly well. Perhaps it is time to level the playing field a bit in order to elect the best possible people to office, rather than those from the two most in control political parties.



Winky Twinky said...

The entire process is exhaustingly frustrating. Because of PACs and special interest groups, etc., who make sure the two main parties get the majority of money flow, others who may really be good candidates never get a chance to be heard... it's all about the money, no term limits, and being able to vote themselves all the goodies somehow all seems to go hand-in-hand with the corruption...

Tim Higgins said...


I am coming to believe that it's OK if the PACs have their way. I now just want to take away the unfair advantages to candidates of the "two party system". I likewise want no more tax dollars spent on internal party elections.

If they need to be run, let them be paid for by the parties themselves.

Hooda Thunkit said...

There ya go again..., going all logical on us.

This game has been fixed/rigged by the dominant 2 parties:

1. to favor their candidates


2. To keep those other parties out of contention.

I liken it to criminals helping other criminals. . .

(And, us footing the bill in not an accident, but probably the most brilliant part of their scheme.)

d. eris said...

Great post. You write: "Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate this part of the electoral process." I think this does not go nearly far enough though. It needs to be re-evaluated, dismantled and replaced with a process which does not systematically disenfranchise and exclude over a third of the electorate to the benefit of a tiny fraction of the populace.

Tim Higgins said...

d eris,


Roland Hansen said...

Not all primary elections are geared toward the two-party system that has evolved in the United States.

There are different types of primary elections and they can vary from city to city and state to state.

The City of Toledo has an open primary for local office in which the top vote-getters go on to the general election. There have been times in Toledo Mayoral elections, for example, when one or the other and when neither the endorsed Democrat nor the endorsed Republican candidates have won in the primary; independent candidates have run against non-endorsed party candidates and two non-endorsed party candidates have run against each other.
(e.g. 1993 Sep 14: Carty Finkbeiner {unendorsed Democrat}, nominated; Mike Ferner {Independent}, nominated; Bill Boyle {unendorsed Democrat}, defeated in primary; Pete Silverman {endorsed Democrat}, defeated in primary; Paula A. Pennypacker {endorsed Republican}, defeated in primary; Woody Adams {unendorsed Republican}, defeated in primary; Philip R. Joelson {Independent - ?}, defeated in primary; Terry L. Shankland {Independent}, defeated in primary. ref The Political Graveyard: Mayors of Toledo, Ohio)

In city council races, there have been times when there was not an equal number of Ds and Rs who ran in the general election and times with non-political party candidates running and in fact winning election.

That's just for starters. It gets much more complex.

Political parties, interest groups, and political campaigns makes for some interesting reading.

d. eris said...

Roland, that's an interesting point re: Toledo. I recently read about the slate of independent candidates Teamwork Toledo is running for City Council and was wondering if independent candidacies were out of the ordinary there or if they were a fixture in the local political landscape.

Tim Higgins said...


I bow to your superior knowledge and background and concede the point on our current local elections. The point never the less stands on a national level, when two parties get all of us to pay for their internal party elections. And don't tell me that this allows initiatives, levies, and other local and regional issues to be tied to a larger purpose; that simply provides cover for two party politics.

Dale Sheldon said...

"For some reason, the United States seems to have developed as a two party system. There is no real reason for this that I can discover."

There is a reason, it's called Duverger's law ('s_law): single winner plurality elections lead to a two party system. No ammount of "ought to be"s will change that two party outcome; the only way out is to change the election system to one that isn't beholden to the perverse incentives of Duverger's law. (A system like score- or approval-voting; join me over at!)

Although the fact that the two parties currently enjoying the benefits of Duverger's law have used their position to additionally stack the deck in their favor is just kicking democracy while it's down.

Tim Higgins said...


An interesting post and well worth the read. I agree that there has to be another system, but fear the subject being taken up by government during this period in the country's history when the Constitution seems to mean so little.

Roland Hansen said...

Is it party time yet? Let's have a DIRT club party. The more the merrier. I'll drink to that

DemocratsIndependentsRepublicansTogetherSign me RH, one of the Three Amigos.
Now, where did TH and Ht ride off to -- oh, there they are are -- riding off into the sunset -- hey, guys, wait up, I wanna go to the party, too, to fight injustice wherever it may leer its ugly head.

Tim Higgins said...


I'm with you Amigo, and with a 3 day weekend, might have the time to recover from trying to do the cough.

Let's Ride!