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Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Disenfranchised? Not . . .

Ethan Millard claims that most of Utah's 1.5 million registered voters were disenfranchised yesterday. I think none of them were. What do you think?

KSL Nightside's Ethan Millard was wigging out all last evening about the low turnout, the closed Republican primary, and the large statewide Republican advantage -- all of which adds up, or rather multiplies, in his mind, to the disenfranchisement of most of a million and a half Utah voters.

I haven't seen final voter turnout figures from the Republican primary, but I think it will be between 15 and 20 percent. For the sake of round numbers, let's say that it was 20 percent, though I suspect it will prove to have been closer to 15. Roughly one-third of Utah voters are registered Republicans, if Millard's numbers are correct. (More are undeclared.) About one-fifth of those voted. About half of those who voted cast their ballots for the winner in the Lee-Bridgewater race. And it is highly unlikely that Lee will lose in November. You can see why Millard would calculate that about one-thirtieth of Utah's registered voters were enough to elect Utah's next US Senator.

I didn't follow every turn of every iteration of Millard's repeated rant, but his basic point was that, except for the one-fifteenth of the registered voters who voted in the Lee-Bridgewater race, Utah's other registered voters were disenfranchised. Look it up; it means they were deprived of the right to vote. The villains in Millard's mind are the Utah Republican Party and the elected Utah officials who guard the Utah GOP's gates with all the energy and effect that we wish we could see in the guarding of the United States' southern border. Fourteen-fifteenths is more than 93 percent, by the way.

Millard kept asking, "Why weren't they allowed" to participate in this process?

This kind of angst may make for good radio ratings; I don't know. Last night, at least, I was willing to listen to KSL in spite of it, where on most evenings I simply would have changed the station -- even if I like Millard's wit and insights on some occasions. But there's another side to the argument, and it makes a lot more sense to me.

First of all, Millard is using the word disenfranchised incorrectly. No one was deprived of the right to vote. Any registered voter was free to declare himself or herself a Republican -- even if only long enough to vote in the Republican primary. Those who chose not to . . . chose not to. No one deprived them of anything.

Second, there is a constitutional issue, based on the First Amendment's freedom of association. If a political party does not wish to allow nonmembers to help select its candidate, it is within its rights to have a closed primary. The fact that the Republican candidate typically -- almost always -- wins in statewide contests in Utah has nothing to do with disenfranchisement.

Remember how upset Democrats got a few weeks ago, when someone suggested that Republicans cross over and vote in the Democratic primary for Claudia Wright against Jim Matheson, because Republican Morgan Philpot could almost certainly defeat Wright much more easily than Matheson? You cannot (a) be upset by that, (b) complain about the closed Republican primary, and (c) be logically consistent.

One of Millard's morsels of evidence is his sure conviction that Senator Robert Bennett would have won reelection if he had been allowed on the ballot. We don't know this to be true. But even if we did, the system which dispatched Senator Bennett in convention is not a lot different from the convention system which turned away Mitt Romney in favor of John McCain in 2008, or George H. W. Bush in favor of Ronald Reagan in 1980. I'm all for having a calm, reasonable, ongoing discussion of our electoral system, but that's impossible to do when you're still upset because your candidate lost.

Look at it this way:

  1. I chose to be a registered Republican and to vote in the Republican primary. Because of this, I was not allowed to cast a vote in the Democratic primary race in my congressional district, even though there was no Republican primary for that seat. Was I disenfranchised?
  2. One of my neighbors is a registered voter who is uninterested in politics and too busy to study all the candidates. He is content not to vote, thereby allowing those of us who want to vote to choose his leaders. Is he disenfranchised by some malevolent outside force?
  3. When I lived in Ithaca, New York, a heavily Democratic area, I voted in election after election for Republican candidates who lost -- many of whom never really had a chance. Was I disenfranchised?
  4. I really want Senator Harry Reid to lose in November, but I'm not allowed to vote in that race, unless I move to Nevada. Am I disenfranchised?
  5. This fall, the junior high chess club will elect a new president. I'm not allowed to vote in that election. Am I disenfranchised?
  6. I think it would be really cool for BYU to win a Big Ten basketball tournament, but they're not allowed to, because they're not in the Big Ten. Are they disenfranchised? Should Iowa be allowed to compete in the Mountain West tournament, so they won't be disenfranchised?

Answers: no, no, no, no, no, and no. In #3 above, I was serially defeated, but not disenfranchised.

All of the people whose self-chosen party affiliation kept them from voting in the Republican primary yesterday were free to choose otherwise, and in any case they have an opportunity to cast a vote in the Senate race in November. The fact that their candidate will likely lose, unless it is Mike Lee, does not disenfranchise them. There is no right to win. There is only a right to vote.

There are some things I can do to affect races in which I cannot vote, such as #4 above. For example, I can contribute to Senator Reid's opponent or her party. Ironically, Ethan Millard doesn't like out-of-state contributions, either -- at least not in Mike Lee's case. So he wants outsiders to be able to vote, but he doesn't want outsiders to be able to contribute. I'm guessing he doesn't see the inconsistency there. (I don't mind outside contributions, but I think the primary funding of a campaign should come from within the boundaries of the constituency.)

If Ethan Millard wants to rant about the grand Utah Republican conspiracy to "systematically disenfranchise more and more and more and more voters," that's okay with me. As long it's okay with his management, he can even keep doing it on the radio, exercising a mix of his own and the station's owners' freedom of speech (or press, whatever). The beauty of the situation is, I have the same freedoms. They allow me not to listen. They allow me to disagree. They even allow me to blog about it.

True, the Dems in Washington want the power to require me to purchase a license from them to blog, but that's a discussion for another day.

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