Should You Vote Tomorrow?

Feb 27, 2012

Michigan’s presidential primary is tomorrow, and the safest prediction one can make is this: Most of us won’t vote in it.

The primary four years ago drew barely 20 percent of eligible voters, and that’s when both parties had a contested nomination. This year, only Republicans do.

There is technically a Democratic primary, but President Obama’s name is the only one on the ballot -- though you can also cast a non-binding vote for uncommitted Democratic delegates.

On the Republican side, all the attention has been paid to the contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. But there are in fact 11 names on the GOP ballot, including some dropped-out and pretty obscure candidates.  You can, if you like, cast a ballot for Gary Johnson or Fred Karger, even if you have no idea who they are.

Strongly committed Republicans will be voting by the hundreds of thousands tomorrow. And at least some Democrats are certain to go vote to show their support for their man, the President.

But the question is this: What if you are an independent, or at least someone who occasionally votes for members of both parties, and maybe even sometimes third party candidate?

Can you vote in tomorrow’s primary?  Legally, yes. We have no formal party registration in this state, as they do, say, in Ohio.

In Michigan, you just have to show up at the polling place and ask for either a Democratic or Republican ballot. If you take a Democratic one, that doesn’t mean you can’t vote in the GOP primary in August, or split your ticket in November.

Similarly, you could request a Republican ballot tomorrow, and vote enthusiastically Democratic in every election later this year.

But should you vote in either party’s primary if you aren’t a committed partisan of that party? Officially, the leadership of both parties would tell you no. They don’t want outsiders tampering with their candidate selection process, and I can understand where they’re coming from. Forty years ago, Republicans crossing over helped give George Wallace a victory in a Michigan Democratic presidential primary. Twelve years ago, crossover Democrats did the same in the GOP contest, helping give John McCain a win over George W. Bush, that year’s eventual nominee.

However, there’s another factor to consider. Many, maybe even most of us, are somewhat independent. The same voters gave Republican John Engler 62 percent one year and Democrat Carl Levin 63 percent a few years later. That means at least a quarter of us go back and forth. Should we have some say in the presidential selection process too?  Here’s how I feel:

Voting deliberately for someone you think is a poor candidate to try and weaken the other side would be unethical and immoral. However, if you are an independent and think Republican Joe Blow is the best qualified in his party to be president, I see nothing wrong with casting a vote for him in this year’s primary.

When it comes down to it, this November, the choice of our next president will, for all practical purposes, come down to two candidates. You may disagree, but leaving it to only extreme partisans to decide who they’ll be doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.