Politics & Other Mistakes: Open season

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“Open” is a word with mixed connotations.

Open government is good. It gives us a clear view of all the bad things our elected leaders are doing.

Open marriage not so much. Chances are one spouse may be unaware of the open part.

Open houses give strangers a chance to criticize the place you live. Open wounds give your insides an opportunity to see the outside world.

Open windows mean spring has finally arrived. Open hostilities mean everybody has decided to stop being so hypocritical.

And open bars mean the pandemic is finally winding down. Or it could be we’re being foolishly optimistic.

As these examples demonstrate, openness, with all its pluses and minuses, is best approached cautiously.

That’s particularly appropriate when it comes to the concept of open primaries. Like open marriages, this proposed reform of our electoral system encourages infidelity. Like open wounds, it leaves the process by which we select candidates for the general election subject to all manner of nasty infections.

Maine currently has a closed primary system. That means you have to be a member of a political party to vote in its primary election. Joining a party isn’t particularly onerous. You just sign up at your municipal office or polling place. If you later realize you don’t like being a Republican, Democrat, or Green Independent, you can unenroll in 90 days, after which you’re free to switch to another party or return to being unaffiliated.

More than 30 percent of Maine’s registered voters have decided they’d rather not be even vaguely connected to QAnon GOPers or antifa Dems. The price they pay for this decision is they don’t get to select which right-wing nut represents the Republicans or which left-wing fanatic becomes the Democrats’ standard-bearer.

Apparently, this is a major sacrifice. Sort of like not being able to watch “WandaVision” because you don’t have Disney+.

In fact, it’s exactly like that. Just as a Marvel-deprived TV viewer can sign up for the streaming service for a nominal fee, a voter without a political party can join one – no charge.

That’s not good enough for Democratic state Sen. Chloe Maxmin (winner of the Oxymoronic Name of the Year Award) of Nobleboro, sponsor of legislation to create open (sorta) primaries that would allow independents to participate without enrolling in either party or signing up for Hulu.

“Unenrolled voters help to pay for primary elections, but they are not currently permitted to participate,” Maxmin wrote in a Bangor Daily News op-ed in February. “Independents will end up voting for party candidates in the fall’s general election, and they deserve a say in who those candidates will be.”

They do? Why?

Roughly 25 percent of the state’s voters almost never go to the polls. They, too, pay for elections they don’t participate in. Maybe they should get a discount on their taxes.

Allowing people who don’t belong to your party to pick its candidates seems like a recipe for choosing nominees who don’t reflect the values of actual members. It also opens (there’s that word again) the door to mischief if large numbers of hostile nonmembers skew election results to hand victory to the candidate who’s least likely to win in November.

Open primaries don’t guarantee better results. They just mean more voters will have to take responsibility for the choice of schlubs on the general election ballot. That’s a great idea for people who don’t have enough to feel guilty about.

In reality, the open-primary movement is less about good government than it is about undermining the major political parties. “Let’s get the parties out of controlling our elections,” Joe H. Pickering Jr., the co-founder of Mainers for Open Elections, wrote in a Portland Press Herald op-ed last year.

Gutting the parties would create a power vacuum, and you know how nature feels about vacuums. What fills that void might be far worse than the donkey dung and pachyderm poop we have to clean up now.

If we have to open something, make it a nice bottle of single-malt Scotch.

I’m closing my mouth. Open yours by emailing [email protected].