Opinion and Viewpoint

MADDOX: Bells toll for Indiana primary elections

June 14, 2014

MaddoxIt’s time to get rid of primary elections in Indiana. Just because we’ve been using them for every race from dog catcher up to president is not good enough to keep incurring these unnecessary costs while disengaging our voters.

Our primaries are incredibly boring to the poll workers who work 13-hour shifts and the voters who must endure them. As a longtime poll worker, I can say they are painful and serve no good purpose.

As I drove my precinct’s election results to the collection facility (in which votes were cast by about 7 percent of eligible adult voters in our neighborhood), I had to navigate around potholes and city parks in need of serious maintenance. The roughly $1 million we spent in Marion County on the primary could have been better allocated to almost any other worthy community project.

Why do fewer than 10 percent of eligible adults vote in our primaries? After you get past the general apathy factor, most don’t vote because there is simply nothing of value to vote for. The respective slating conventions for the two major political parties have already established the field for the November general elections.

At the primary, we simply require the most loyal party voters to come in and vote the party slate, making it official.

Independent voters are a growing component of our electorate. But there is no place for them in a primary election. In virtually every precinct during a primary, you see independent voters being told they have to publicly declare themselves more likely to vote for Democrats or Republicans in the November general election by virtue of the primary ballot they select. This leaves many independents confused, angry and with a negative voting experience.

Getting rid of primaries would have the added effect of breathing new life into our county and state political parties, which seem to have declined in stature and value over the years.

Additionally, the slating/nominating process will become an even more important source of revenue for the parties’ coffers. More future candidates will have more meaningful apprenticeships in their respective political parties before they run for office, which can’t be all bad.

The only hesitation I have about scrapping all primaries in Indiana relates to the presidential election. In most presidential elections, by the time Indiana’s primary comes up in the first week of May, the nominee has already been determined.

However, this was not the case in the 2008 Democratic primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. A very close and historic election brought many interested voters to the polls.

But this was unfortunately an aberration to the general experience of Indiana’s not being important in a typical presidential year. Who’s to say that if Indiana went to a party caucus system for its presidential election that similar interest wouldn’t be accommodated in those rare years where the race isn’t over by May?

The General Assembly should start looking at scrapping our primary elections in favor of a party-nominating system. Not a dollar more of our public treasury should be wasted on primaries, where we simply rubber-stamp the party slates.

And if they listen to me, next May you’ll find me watching paint dry or grass grow as opposed to manning the empty voting booths in the gym of Mary Castle Elementary School. I will miss those free cookies.•

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Maddox is managing partner of Maddox Hargett & Caruso. A former Indiana securities commissioner, Maddox represents investors in securities litigation and arbitration matters. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.
 

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