Georgia’s Nonpartisan Ballots are Confusing; Georgia’s Open Primaries are Necessary

Georgia voters faced a decision in last week’s primary beyond which presidential candidate they wanted to support. In Georgia, we have open primaries, which means that we get to choose whether we vote in the Republican or the Democratic primary. True-believing die-hards from either party will rarely waver on which ballot they choose, but as increasing numbers of voters identify as “independent,” and thus nonpartisan voters, many voters determine which party’s primary they’ll vote in on an election-by-election basis.

I’m one of these independent voters, and while my recent votes in general elections are a pretty even split between Rs and Ds, anyone who takes the time to pull my personal voting record (these are public records, so knock yourself out) will see that I generally pull a Republican ballot for primaries, because in my districts, there’s rarely more than one Democratic candidate for each seat (and these are strong candidates), so unless I choose the Republican ballot, I’m not actually voting for anything besides the occasional nonpartisan ballot initiatives and judicial races. While I may identify as an independent voter – something I take pretty seriously, since I hold a nonpartisan municipal office – I know better than to ask for an official nonpartisan ballot.

For many voters, though, Georgia’s nonpartisan ballots lead to some confusion. On WABE, one anonymous voter described her experience:

“I was planning to vote for a Democrat, but I like to think of myself as open minded and not beholden to a party line,” said the 33-year-old, who wished to remain anonymous. “I was just trying to make sure my ballot represented my actual views — which turned out to be a really dumb thing to do.”

“This is super embarrassing to me because I like to think that I am a somewhat civically engaged human who understands how the voting process works,” she said. “I just thought I was better than this…”

“So I weighed in real hard on that water-sewer thing, but wasn’t able to vote for a presidential candidate, regrettably,” the voter told WABE. She said poll workers she spoke with gave the impression she wasn’t alone in her mistake.

At the end of the day, any voters who voted on a nonpartisan ballot – if it was even an option at their precinct, since some counties, including Cobb, only offered partisan ballots as there were no nonpartisan ballot issues in Cobb County last Tuesday – probably didn’t contribute all that much to the voter deficit for either Sanders or [insert not-Trump candidate of your choice].

That said, any confusion caused by the nonpartisan ballots should be easily remedied by voter education and outreach campaigns. And as there are more independent, nonpartisan voters than ever, hopefully there won’t be a push in Georgia for closed primaries that limit both independent voters, and independent thought.


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