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Fractional politics: Tiny party's suit may open primaries
The Daily Oklahoman
October 1, 2004

THE FASTEST-growing political organization in Oklahoma is the Libertarian Party. Between the end of June and the end of August, Libertarian registrations grew by 7.5 percent, from a whopping 545 to a mighty 586.

The growth rate in registrations of Republicans (2.3 percent), Democrats (1.4) and independents (1.7) doesn't approach that of the Libertarians. Which isn't saying much because the latter party could fit its entire membership into a hotel ballroom.

Yet this tiny political party may force its way into the mainstream by opening state political primaries to all voters. If a pending court case goes its way, Oklahoma's closed primary system would be a thing of the past.

Libertarians got a federal appeals court to rule against the state's closed primary system. The case will next go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the state's arguments that it has a right to determine the voting process. The case could be decided by this time next year.

Libertarians have much to offer. Their positions on many issues are sound and well-reasoned. We agree with them that ballot access is a problem that needs to be fixed. But we disagree that the primary system is broken and in need of a fix.

Political parties don't foot the bill for primary elections. Taxpayers do. This would tend to support the argument that Democratic and Republican primaries shouldn't be off-limits to some voters. As it stands, voters can participate only in the primary elections of their respective parties. All voters are eligible for a general election.

Libertarians believe that allowing a Democrat or Republican to vote in a Libertarian primary will expose more citizens to what the party has to offer, thereby expanding voting options for members of the major parties and for independents, who must now sit out the primary election season.

Open primaries create a situation where Democrats can vote in a Republican primary, or vice versa, for the purpose of helping nominate a weak candidate. Through the years, federal courts have been unable to provide clear direction in this area of constitutional law. In that sense, the pending case could provide a much-needed clarification of the legal status of political primaries.

We hope this clarification upholds the right of Oklahoma to decide how primary elections are conducted. If not, the election season of 2006 would be the first in which crossover voting is permitted here.

Just under 90 percent of registered voters in Oklahoma have chosen to affiliate with either of the two major political parties. Just over 10 percent are registered as independents. That leaves a fraction of a percent who are registered as Libertarians.

This fraction, using a legal challenge that has a good chance of succeeding, could determine voting rights and privileges for the rest of us.

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