A Curious Political Development

State Senator and Secretary of State candidate Leonidas Raptakis (D, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick) has submitted legislation that would insert the following language into state law:

No political party shall prohibit any independent registered voter who has no affiliation with any political party from participating in any political primary.

Here’s his press release, which (curiously) he sent out himself, rather than through the senate’s procedure:

State Senator Lou Raptakis, who recently announced his campaign for Secretary of State, is drafting legislation that would prevent any political party in Rhode Island from holding a closed primary. The Rhode Island Republican Party is considering closing their primary and prohibiting the participation of unaffiliated voters, a voting block which constitutes the largest group of voters in the state.
Raptakis said that no political party in the state should expect taxpayers to pay the bill for a party primary which shuts out 335,288 unaffiliated voters.
“It’s very simple,” said Raptakis. “If a political party wants to turn an open primary election process into an exercise in determining the will of their own members, then that party should not expect the taxpayers of Rhode Island to pay the bill.”
Raptakis added, “The fact that some members of the Rhode Island GOP are seeking to close their primary, would reduce the number of eligible participants in that primary from 408,089 unaffiliated and Republican voters to 72,801 registered Republicans. Why should the state have to pay for a party’s primary election when that party is telling the overwhelming majority of voters that their participation is not wanted?”
While a spokesperson for the Secretary of State suggested that their interpretation of the law was that Republicans could not hold a closed primary, it is expected that if the state GOP votes to bar unaffiliated voters from their primary, the issue will wind up in state court. Raptakis noted that Rhode Island General Laws 17-15-24 establishes that the only people who can be prohibited from voting in a party primary are those who vote in the primary of another party and don’t disaffiliate or those who have designated their affiliation with another party.
“I don’t believe the state’s election law allows for a closed primary, but a judge may rule otherwise,” said Raptakis. “I think we need to make it crystal clear that as long as the state is funding primary elections, it will not allow any political party to significantly limit participation in the electoral process.”

If Raptakis is so confident that a party cannot close its primary, then why the legislation? In other words, why is a closed primary such a threat that it must be “crystal clear”?
One obvious reason might be that Democrats like the easy option of jumping over to control the effectiveness of the other side. The small size of the RIGOP also represents a little bit of an advantage for Republican candidates in a closed primary, because they can campaign to a smaller group of people, avoiding expense and center-stage bloodshed, almost as a community discussion. A third reason could be that Raptakis, himself, is a right-leaning outlier among Democrats and fears that his own party might follow suit, effectively blocking his campaign.
Evidence that the proposed legislation is more political than principled can be found in the fact that the legislation makes no reference to the funding of primaries, however much the senator may stress that rationale.

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12 years ago

This is idiotic. All primaries are “closed”. When you walk in, if you have a U next to your name, they ask which ballot you want and you say either “Democrat” or “Republican”. At that moment, you have affiliated yourself with that party and can then vote in the “closed” election. The only difference the Republicans want to do is to move that timeline back from “when you walk in” to “ninety days before”. That’s the only difference. No one is being shut out.

12 years ago

This action is mystifying. Either Sen. Raptakis is too ignorant to serve in government or he is part of a conspiracy to hobble the Republican Party.
The argument he uses to support this ridiculous bill has already been demonstrated to be invalid. The rebuttal is simple: The state, by statute, has mandated primary elections as the method of candidate selection for political parties; therefore, the state steps up to pay for those elections. If you want to call the tune, you have to pay the piper.
If the candidate selection process were not a matter of statute, it would be easy and affordable for the parties to manage their own, internal processes by using caucuses among the town and precinct committees.
Nobody loses his right to vote by choosing to remain ineligible to vote in primaries. This argument, loudly put forth by the proponents of “open primaries” is invalid on its face. The right to vote applies to general elections for office, not internal party selection of the party’s candidates. To argue otherwise is to violate the First Amendment’s protection of the right to freedom of assembly.
Let’s not exclude from criticism Sens. Cote and Pinga, who co-sponsored this piece of garbage.

12 years ago

Are the legislators who sponsored this bill considering jumping ship and hopping onto the RI GOP? If so, this legislation is clearly self serving. Now THAT’s what the state needs- the Democrats who no longer want to associate with their far left progressive brethren to take over the GOP. Close the prmary. If the dems want to come on board, then they need to prove to the members of the GOP that they really are the most conservative candidate. Some of the DINOs may even win in a closed primary. The rest of them need to go home, and take the RINOs with them.

Scott Bill Hirst
Scott Bill Hirst
12 years ago

Primaries vary from state to state. Rhode Island at one time was so stringent if you voted in a party primary, you were a member of that party for 26 months. That was thrown out by court action.
Some states Louisiana and Alaska ALL candidates are on the same ballot in their primaries. I believe that to be correct. In fact in Louisiana you can have the two finishers of the same party compete against each other. That system would likely really harm the RI GOP if implemented.
One thing should be changed is the three day threshold to file declaration of candidacies in RHode Island.
Don’t forget the state GOP meeting at the Shriners in Cranston at One Rhodes Place Tuesday night.
It appears that if litigated it is likely the primary could be closed, as case history on the topic seems that way. The issue is would the state GOP be
willing to litigate it.The state seems to hold firm on open primaries. Is it a fight the RI GOP wants this year?
As a GOP leader, I see a party with limited financial resources and the need for candidate recruitment at this time. As far as Gio Cicione is concerned, I do not support Gio’s removal as State Chair at this time, but do note the Governor is conspiciously silent on whether Gio has his support or not. I will listen to arguments though, and then make my final decision.
Scott Bill Hirst

12 years ago

The issue of having an “Open Primary” is important for one reason and one reason only.
It will allow unaffiliated voters the chance to participate in the nomination of a candidate who might otherwise be eliminated by the “Machine” vote. And yes, I understand they can vote now!
That is, candidates “new” to the process would be at a severe disadvantage when competing against an incumbent, financed and endorsed by the party.
If you people can’t see that opening a primary to ALL voters would be advantageous to removing the current occupants of the General Assembly, then you deserve everything that comes your way.
Are you so blind to really believe that the Democrats really care about who runs in a GOP Primary? They are more worried about protecting the “powers that be”.
The RI GOP is so hopelessly mired in political infighting so as to be totally ineffectual.
Get over it. Support this legislation or you will continue to be back benchers even as 2010 continues to portend a voter revolt!
If you can’t see this, then you will continue to suffer defeat at the hands of such GA “leaders” as Constantino. Fox, Williamson, Lima, Naughton, Paiva-Weed, Daponte, Walaska, McCaffery etc. They have the money, the machine and the “Master Lever”!! And yes, I mean that figuratively not literally!
RI voters are too busy working to pay the bills to realize what is at stake. Speaker Murphy currently has over $87K in his Campaign Fund! Fox has $78K! Paiva-Weed has $25K but just held a fundraiser at $200 per on Thursday! Gee, where do you think that will go?
I’m not sure if you’re committed to perpetual defeat or are so politically naive as to not see what is happening.
“We get the Government, We Deserve!”

12 years ago

Aldo, what is wrong with the idea that if you want to influence the party of your choice, you should become an active member of that party?
Thinking of unaffiliated voting in party primaries is a “right” is the same as thinking that permanent welfare, WIC and housing subsidies are “entitlements”.

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