Hawaii voters deserve constitutional primaries
Editor's note: Hawaii's voters do not have to be registered party members to cast ballots in primary elections.
Shush! Please don't tell anyone! Hawaii's primary election law is unconstitutional.
Attempts to establish similar primary systems in California and Arizona have been struck down by the courts.
In 2000, four political parties in California challenged the constitutionality of a proposition that would have converted California's primary election law from one in which persons who are members of a political party select their nominee to a primary in which anyone could vote in any party's primary. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California's blanket primary system was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment (California v. Jones).
This year the U.S. District Court for Arizona, citing the Supreme Court's California ruling, permanently enjoined Arizona's secretary of state from allowing voters who are not registered as Libertarians from casting a ballot in any Libertarian primary (Arizona Libertarian Party, Inc. v. Brewer).
So why is there reluctance to change Hawaii's primary election law? Fear! Many elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, like the current unconstitutional law.
Democrats already have a super-majority in both the state Senate and the state House of Representatives. Why change it? Also, there is fear that if Democrats propose a change in our unconstitutional primary system, voters will see it as a power grab by elected Democrats, not as correction to an unconstitutional system. Republicans, on the other hand, like the current system because they can mess with the Democratic primary election by helping to nominate the weakest Democrat to run in the general election, namely candidates who come closest to representing Republican values or candidates who are most likely to be defeated by Republicans in the general election.
The current system is much like allowing the Georgia football team to select which quarterback will run the offense for Hawaii's football team in the Sugar Bowl, or like allowing owners of the union-busting Pacific Beach Hotel to select who will be the head of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 142 or allowing the representatives of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce to select the head of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
Why are we speaking up when it would be easier to let the current unconstitutional system go unchallenged? Because we believe that primary elections are intended to nominate the candidate who best represents the values and principles of their respective parties. We want to have Democrats nominate candidates who are willing to stand up for the values and principles our Democratic Party members hold most dear. We believe this is both a right and responsibility of our party and our members.
Richard Port, former chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, is a Democratic National Committee member.