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Open primaries: combating the political polarization in America

As of the 2016 presidential election, 23 of the 50 United States operate under some form of open primary. In these states, voters are permitted to choose any party’s ballot to vote on within an election. This affiliation is not permanent and can change from election to election.

In contrast, states with closed primaries allow only those who are registered to a certain party to vote on that party’s ticket. So, only registered Republicans may vote for the Republican presidential candidates, and only registered Democrats may vote for Democratic presidential candidates in the primaries.

While these 23 states allow for constituents to vote for any presidential candidate regardless of party affiliation in primaries, Maryland is one of the remaining states that only permits their constituents to vote for presidential candidates within their registered political party. This system adversely affects both our democracy and our state by endorsing polarization and should be done away with.

Of the five states with the highest turnout of voters in the 2016 primary elections, all said states had either fully open or semi-open primaries. In contrast, of the five states with the lowest primary voter turnout, four had closed primaries with the exception of Idaho.

In the 2016 election, we saw presidential candidates cross boundaries like never before. Furthermore, we saw the most extreme presidential candidates get pushed to the front of the crowd, while more moderate candidates were overshadowed. We can view this as potential evidence of the United States being more polarized than ever before with respect to the two-party system.

Giving every citizen the power to choose a presidential candidate regardless of that candidate’s political affiliation will most likely increase bipartisanship within the population and the government. The negative effects of polarization touch every aspect of our culture and our society. Having open primaries would encourage constituents to consider the viewpoints of all and not just those endorsed by the leaders of their party.

Opponents of open primaries argue that they can be used by political parties to elect candidates of other parties that might be easier to defeat. While this idea likely happens now with open primaries, and would likely happen more if Maryland operated with open primaries, the benefits of open primaries, including increased political freedom and decreased polarization largely outweigh the negatives of people having greater opportunity to vote strategically.

In the end, it should be constituents that are responsible for, and hold the highest power to influence the results of the election for President of the United States of America. Upon the birth of our country, and the appropriation of democracy to support it, it was envisioned that the people would essentially hold the real power.

In their current form, closed primaries only serve to further polarize the politics of this nation. We should encourage a democracy that considers all candidates regardless of political affiliation and looks to how their ideas can improve our country. A helpful step in this process would be instituting open primaries in Maryland.