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Open primaries to unaffiliated voters

The editorial board has consistently advocated for the two major political parties to open their primary process to accommodate the largest voting bloc in the state — unaffiliated voters. Given that, we enthusiastically back the latest call to do so. It comes from Oz Griebel in his capacity as Connecticut chair of the SAM-CT Task Force.

Last time Griebel was in the news it was as a non-party, petitioning candidate for governor in 2018. He finished a distant third behind the winner, Democrat Ned Lamont, and Republican candidate Bob Stefanowski.

SAM — Serve America Movement — describes itself as “a citizen-driven, voluntary group of people who believe America can be, and should be, a country where level-headed views work to find compromise and consensus.”

A former Republican, Griebel, trying to appeal to centrist and unaffiliated voters, ran as a problem solver who would not be bound by the partisan dogma that he argued inhibits Democrats and Republicans from working together.

Allowing unaffiliated voters into primaries, it can be argued, could lead to the nomination of candidates with a broader, centrist message, rather than candidates who must play to partisans on the left or right to win the party-members-only primaries. Our bet is that Stefanowski, who strongly associated himself with President Trump and grounded his campaign in the unrealistic promise of repealing the state income tax, would not have been the Republican gubernatorial nominee had Republicans opened the primary to unaffiliated candidates. With unaffiliated voters participating, a moderate like Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton could have well won the primary and led the party to victory in the general election.

It is up to the political parties to decide whether to open their primaries. Both have persistently resisted. Their fears are that open primaries would diminish the value of enrolling as a Democrat or Republican, further undermining the major parties, and could open the door to non-party members meddling in the process by voting for weaker candidates.

Those fears ignore the flip side of the equation. If, on primary day, unaffiliated voters were allowed to select to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries, they could well become vested in the results and more likely to support the party’s candidate in the general election.

We agree 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.

Republicans, it would seem, would have the most to gain by seeking to expand their base of supporters by opening their primaries to the unaffiliated. If one party jumps to open primaries, the other party will be pressured to join them.

Most fundamentally, it is a question of fairness. About 979,400 voters in Connecticut, 41 percent, register as unaffiliated. As for encouraging folks to belong to a major party by maintaining closed primaries, it’s not working. Unaffiliated is the fastest growing segment of voters. It makes sense for the parties to bring them into the fold, not close them out.

It is true that any voter, designated as unaffiliated as of Jan. 28, can participate by enrolling in a party up until the April 28 presidential primary in Connecticut, then thereafter unaffiliate again if they so choose. By as noted in his letter to party leaders urging them to open the process, Griebel states “those … procedures are neither well-known nor understood by voters.”

And why require someone to declare for a party and then undeclare? Instead, make it convenient for the voter.

Political parties in 22 states utilize open primaries and/or caucuses as part of the presidential nominating process. Connecticut Democrats and Republicans should join them.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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