If you were waiting to see who the Democratic and Republican candidates would be before you decided how to register for Kentucky’s May primary election, you’ve waited too long.
The deadline for changing your party affiliation was Dec. 31 of last year.
Chances are you didn’t know that, because the state doesn’t give it much publicity, and most party officials probably would rather you didn’t know. That allows them more control of their membership.
Some control is reasonable. “Raiding,” which consists of voters of one party crossing over to vote for the weakest candidate in another party’s primary — to give their own party’s nominee an advantage in the later general election — is a problem in open primary states. So is allowing independents (unaffiliated voters) to tilt a party’s primary in states where only those who are registered as “non-partisan” can wait until election day to decide which party’s primary to vote in.
Parties are organizations that expect their members to adhere to a general political philosophy or set of tenets. It is unfair and unreasonable for their nominees to be chosen by members of another party, or no party at all, who don’t share the party’s values.
Given, however, that party loyalty is not as strong as it was even a generation ago, there should be some reasonable accommodation of those who want to base their votes on “the person, not the party,” or whose political beliefs change because of rapidly changing circumstances.
It used to be that most people were Republicans or Democrats because that’s what their families were, and they remained members of the same party all their lives. But that hasn’t been true for a long time, and those who make the rules must accept the new reality.
Kentucky is the only state that requires citizens to settle on a party affiliation so long before a primary. Iowa and New Jersey require voters to register their party status in December, but both of those states have early nomination contests, in January and February, respectively.
Kentuckians must decide on their party almost five months before they actually go to the polls. That’s absurd.
In most states, people can register to vote 25 to 30 days before the primary and choose their party status at that time.
Kentucky voters can also register about a month before the primary if they are doing so for the first time, or because they’ve changed their address, or for any other reason except changing their party affiliation.
The most egregious factor in Kentucky’s primary system is that candidates don’t have to register to run until late January — nearly a month after the voters have chosen which party’s primary they’ll vote in.
Consequently, voters often don’t know who their party’s candidates will be when they choose a party.
That should be unacceptable to everyone who believes in the basic republican principles of open government, informed decision-making and free choice.
In this session of the state legislature, we would encourage lawmakers to propose a bill making the final date for changing one’s party the same as that for changing one’s address or registering for the first time — about a month before the primary.
There is no good reason that it should be different.