On Tuesday, June 4, the Iowa primaries will bAe held across the state. Important elections are at stake, yet only registered voters are eligible to vote in a primary, and they must declare either Republican or Democrat before they can participate because Iowa has a "closed primary" system. This means that the majority of voters in Scott County will not be able to vote in the primaries because they are registered as "independents"?unless perhaps they are willing to declare one or the other party for a limited period of time so that they, too, can vote in June's primary. (Citizens who are not registered to vote must do so at least 10 days prior to the election.)

The purpose of closed primaries, declaring one party or the other, is legitimate at first glance. The idea is to prevent sabotage. In an "open primary," voters do not have to declare a party. So, for example, if Republicans have a strong candidate for an office who doesn't have an opponent from his/her own party, hence no primary, while the Democrats' strong candidate does, then Republicans could cast a vote for the weaker candidate on the Democratic ballot, giving their candidate the edge in the general election should the Democrat's weaker candidate win the primary. And vice-versa.

Closed primaries prevent this sabotage, but disenfranchise many independent voters by excluding them from the primary process. Beyond this, the closed-primary process has other inherent flaws. A good example of this concerns incumbent Republican Iowa Senator Maggie Tinsman's race against Republican Niky Bowles in tandem with Democrat Bettendorf Mayor Ann Hutchinson's race against fellow Democrat Dave Nagle, both vying for incumbent Republican Congressman Jim Nussle's US House seat. Senator Tinsman traditionally pulls republicans, independents, as well as moderate Democrats, because of her strong position on education and the protection of children. However, this year, moderate Democrats will likely vote the Democratic ballot in favor of Hutchinson or Nagle, leaving a smaller margin by which Bowles could potentially win.

The only remedy for this systemic problem in the closed primary process is for registered independents to declare one party or the other for the purpose of voting the day of the primary, then re-registering as an independent afterwards. While this might appear disingenuous, it is in fact operating within the parameters of the process as it is designed. Otherwise, those voters who may prefer Tinsman to Bowles, or vice-versa, but who also support Hutchinson or Nagle, will have to cast their votes at the expense of one over the other. This is particularly objectionable when considering that the races involve totally different offices?one is for the Iowa Senate, the other for the US House.

The crux of the problem is that both Tinsman and Hutchinson have Republican and Democrat supporters, but because of the closed system, voters are going to have to choose between these two candidates to cast their vote because they can only vote one ballot, Republican or Democrat. Even though the candidates are running for completely separate offices, and voters might support both in some instances, they can't in the closed primary system. Therefore, it is critical that all voters participate in this upcoming primary on Tuesday, June 4, even if it means that independents have to declare a party for a day or two to vote. This will help to ensure that candidates win or lose based on merit and the wish of the people rather than because of flaws in the primary process.

Registered voters can fill out a "Change of Party Declaration" at the polls when they vote in the primary. They can re-register as independents by filling out the same form in the Qwest phone book (government page 93) and mailing it in prior to the general election. Or visit the auditor's web site at www.scottcountyiowa.com and download the form. However, the general election is an open ballot, meaning registered voters can vote anyway they choose, regardless of their declared party.

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