Bernie Sanders Is Right About Closed Primaries

For the first time in a long time, New Yorkers got the chance to impact a national election with their votes when the state held its primaries on April 19.

Here in New York, we're spared the unending commercials and mad dash of White House hopefuls criss-crossing the state to curry favor with voters, because we usually don't matter in presidential elections.

New York isn't a swing state. More significantly, New York is such a deep blue state that Democrats know they can take it for granted, and Republicans don't even bother to campaign here.

That makes voting in presidential elections seem like a rote, empty exercise. You vote because it's the right thing to do, because it's your civic responsibility and privilege as an American, but regardless of whom you support, you know that your vote really doesn't mean anything.

But in the 2016 primaries, things were different. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton had a commanding lead in the polls thanks in large part to her stint as a New York senator, but rival Bernie Sanders was coming off a streak of impressive victories, and he wasn't conceding the state he was born in.

On the Republican side it seemed inevitable that Donald Trump, another native New Yorker, would win the primary, but it was still worth a chuckle to pick up a copy of the New York Post and read about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- who derided so-called "New York values" during earlier campaign stops -- getting mobbed by angry New Yorkers.

And yet, if you weren't registered with either of the major political parties, you couldn't participate in the primaries. As a person who thinks ideology is an intellectual crutch, and dislikes both parties about equally, I'm among those who were freezed out of casting a primary vote.

Now that Clinton looks like the presumptive winner of the Democratic primary, and Sanders has no mathematical chance to earn his party's nomination, the Vermont senator has turned his attention to reforming the political process, and closed primaries are at the top of his list of things that have to go.

"Three million people in the state of New York who are independents have lost their right to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary," Sanders thundered, according to the New York Daily News. "That’s wrong."

Sanders may not win, but as a story in Politico notes, going into the Democratic convention with the support of about 45 percent of the party's base means Sanders will have more political leverage than anyone not named Clinton. More, in fact, since Clinton's role will be to play unifier and court the Sanders voters she needs to win the general election.

In a year marked by intense dissatisfaction with the status quo, and massive numbers of voters on the left and right who feel disenfranchised by their own parties, Clinton will need to cede some ground to the progressive wing of the party if she wants Sanders' explicit support in the general election.

Independents are also a growing demographic, as Vox's Jeff Stein points out, which means Democrats can ill-afford to deny them a seat at the table if they're going to ask for their support in elections.

Some Democrats, like DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, still claim ownership over the party, and think non-Democrats could derail the party's carefully-laid plans.

“I’m speaking for myself — this is not something that the national party’s had a discussion on – but in my opinion the Democratic primary should be determined by Democratic voters,” Wasserman Schultz said in mid-April, per the Washington Post.

Yet the Democratic party styles itself as the "big tent" party, the welcoming party where anyone and everyone is invited to participate in the political process. If party leaders are serious about that distinction, and want to signal to regular voters that they aren't just a bunch of elites disregarding the will of the people, then they owe it to Sanders and his supporters to take a long, hard look at opening primaries to independent voters.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Vox, The Washington Post (2) (3), Politico / Photo credit: Francisco Diez/Wikimedia Commons

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