Project Wonderful

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ask An Election Nerd: Party Registration

Round two comes from a friend (also an Ohioan, way to be Buckeye State) about whether she should register with a party. I get asked this question a lot. By asked, I mean someone mentions registering Independent within earshot and they are treated to an unsolicited lecture. Let's see what happens!


I read your blog and I actually have a question. I don't really know how I should register. I was initially registered as Republican, then switched to Democrat, and now I honestly don't want to be associated with either where does that leave me? As an Independent? And then I can't vote in primaries? I loved the first one of these you did because it really broke it down. I bet a lot of other people have this question too.

(*not her real name)

First let's step back and remember that we do have more than two parties in our country. While registering with the Green Party would preclude you from voting in the Republican or Democratic primaries, it could serve another function. For example, sending a message to your representatives that you agree with the Greens on key issues. For a blog post about my favorite third party, click here. I also feel the need to point out that being an Independent means you are not registered with a political party and should not be confused with being a member of the Independence party, a third party you can read about here.

But since I know none of that's what you were asking about, let's talk about reasons to register as a Democrat or Republican. For me, there are a lot of good reasons to register Dem, which I've posted about in the past. Now that I am thinking of once again hitting the campaign trail (you heard it here first, ladies and gentleman) I have extra incentive. It would be pretty silly of me not to register Democrat if I ever worked a primary again. (For the record, I am a registered Dem.) If you are particularly involved in politics, being a member of a party enables you to participate in Democratic (or Republican) Town Committees and from there state or national conventions. As with the Greens, registering also allows you to express your support for one of the two major parties.

For most people, however, voting in the primary is the real draw. Whether or not you can vote in a primary without registering with a party depends on whether your state's primaries are open or closed. Open, as the name would suggest, means that you can vote in one (never both) party's primary of your choosing. Closed means you can only vote in a primary of the party in which you are registered. There also semi-closed primaries, which means that as an Independent you can vote in either primary, but party registrants have to vote in their own primary. Every state has different rules. In some states one party's primaries may be closed while the other's are semi-closed.

If you live in a state with closed primaries I highly advocate registering with either party, because otherwise you are basically disenfranchising yourself.
This is especially true in very red or very blue states where the primary election is more or less the ballgame. It should be noted that this is just my (strong) opinion and that some people argue that showing Washington they are not "buying into" the two party system is more valuable to them than their primary vote. To them I would say, "You know whose opinion politicians realllly care about? People who can't vote for them. Great job. Way to stick it to the man!" (Not!) Again, just my opinion, but you asked for it. (When I was working the Presidential primary, I flipped out on my Dad for being a registered Independent because New York has a closed primary system. That's right, Dad, if you had just registered as a Democrat, John Edwards would be President--now look what you did!)

I happen to know that Ohio has open primaries with a very weird grandfather clause. Basically, you are only supposed to vote in the primary of the party in whose primary you last voted...unless you have truly switched ideology. As you can imagine, this rule is hard to enforce and basically nobody does. So if you, Naomi, want to be an Independent, go for it. You can find out what kind of primaries your state holds here, thanks to

As for which party to choose, that's up to you. If it were up to me, no one would ever vote Republican, so it wouldn't matter. I would advise you to vote in the primary where you feel the most passionately about the differences between the candidates. For example, if all of the Democrats seem roughly the same, but one of the Republicans is Snidely Whiplash, maybe you want to vote in the Republican primary in order to save Moose and Squirrel. Also, he lives in Canada so I don't think this will be a problem.

Well, if that wasn't helpful, I don't know what is! Tune in next time for Ask An Election Nerd!


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