Public primary elections for the Democratic and Republican parties of Virginia will be held on June 20, 2023. Off on a Tangent makes recommendations to primary voters in state- and federal-level races in Virginia and local elections in Loudoun County whenever nominees will be chosen in a contested public primary election.
Political parties are private organizations that should have no formal standing in our political system. As private organizations, they are free to choose their nominees through whichever process they wish—common methods include conventions, caucuses, private “firehouse primaries,” and direct nomination by party leaders. But in Virginia and many other states, the Democratic and Republican party duopoly has given itself permission to hold public primaries when they wish to. These are managed by state election authorities and funded by the taxpayers.
When a party chooses to have a public primary for an office in Virginia, it is “open”—any registered voter may vote in it. Virginia does not have formal party registrations and party membership is a private matter between the party and the individual. A voter’s party membership status may affect whether they can participate in a private nomination process, but it is irrelevant in public primaries. That said, a voter may only vote in one party’s primary on a given day. If both major parties are having public primaries for an office, the voter must pick one or the other.
The public primary system is unconstitutional. Private organizations may not use public agencies and funds to conduct internal business. The state also cannot discriminate between organizations—meaning if they are going to offer this service, they must offer it to any organization of any type. If we’re going to allow public primaries for the Democrats and Republicans, we must allow the Libertarians and Greens to have them too . . . and the Rotary Club, and your neighborhood association, and your swim team, and your church, and Starbucks, and Google. Either everybody can do it, or nobody can.
I do not vote in party primaries because I am not a member of any party. I have no inclination (and no right) to influence who a private club wants to nominate for elected office unless I am a member of the club. But I am a taxpayer, which means I’m paying for it when the parties chose to nominate with a public primary. For that reason, I make recommendations in public primary races, but not in races where the parties are choosing their nominees privately.