I want to vote in the Republican primary. I have to vote Democratic.
In George Washington’s farewell address on Sept. 17, 1796, he warned the nation about the perils of political parties.
Unfortunately, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson had other ideas, and the two-party system was born.
It’s tempting to say that Washington would say “I told you so” if he were here today. But, from what I’ve read about the man, he would be too classy to rub it in.
But he would doubtless be thinking it.
Partisanship has run amok in our country, and there appears to be no end in sight. Members of Congress lose primary challenges for the unpardonable sin of voting with their party “only” 95 percent of the time. National Republicans have become more and more conservative, while national Democrats have become more and more liberal. We have become more polarized and less tolerant of the viewpoints of others.
Gone are the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill — famously “friends after 6 p.m.” — engaging in rigorous and thoughtful debate, before meeting in the middle for the good of the nation. Compromise has become a dirty word.
A conservative friend of mine recently remarked that “a moderate is just a liberal who won’t admit it.” The statement was made in jest, but he inadvertently made a good point. Moderates are such a rare breed these days that people can’t believe it when they see one. Centrism is the new extremism.
Which leads me to Tuesday’s primary election.
I am no fan of political parties, so I have never joined one. I never will. I registered as an independent.
In my home state of Missouri (I grew up 15 minutes from the Oklahoma line), no one is asked to declare a party upon registration. Voters may cast ballots in the primary of their choosing on Election Day. The more local the race, the less partisanship plays a factor, which is why I have always preferred local politics. Arkansas has a similar voter registration process.
I have always voted in the Republican primary, mainly because that was where the action was. In most races, the GOP primary was the de facto general election.
Tuesday, for the first time, I will pull a Democratic ballot.
Under the rules of the Oklahoma Republican and Libertarian parties, only voters who commit to their parties may vote. The Democratic Party only opened its primaries to independents in 2015. Better late than never.
It was heartening to read that the two major parties lost ground to independents and Libertarians in new voter registrations this year. It looks like other Oklahomans may be getting sick of partisanship, too, and a system that encourages it.
Hopefully, the state GOP will take note and opt for a bigger tent to allow people like me in.
Oklahoma gets it right by requiring majority vote
On a positive note, Oklahoma is right in requiring candidates to receive a majority vote to earn a party nomination or an electoral victory. Our neighbors to the northeast only require a plurality.
One of the most interesting elections I have covered was the sheriff’s race in Barry County, Mo., two years ago.
Six Republicans entered the race to replace the longtime incumbent, who chose not to seek re-election.
The eventual nominee only received 24 percent of the vote. He “won” the nomination, despite 76 percent of voters picking someone else.
Fortunately, a Democrat entered the race right before the filing deadline, forcing a November “runoff” of sorts. The Republican won handily, as expected, but at least a majority of voters got to pick their sheriff.
At my urging, my state senator introduced legislation requiring successful candidates to earn a majority vote. The bill stalled. It’s hard to get folks to support something that might threaten their incumbency.
I have often half-joked that, if I were an unpopular Missouri officeholder facing a challenge, I would encourage a lot of other people to enter the race, too. This would allow the “change” vote to be split several ways, and I could slip back into office with a plurality.
One-time elections often become lifetime appointments in the Show-Me State.
Oklahomans can say “the people have spoken” with a straight face.