New York State had its primary this past Tuesday. Turnout was reported to be light. But, light is an understatement.
Today the official word is that only 5.5% of *registered* Republicans turned out to vote. The turnout for Democrats was higher - somewhere between 11% and 15%, according to the Times Union.
Part of the reason for the discrepancy in turnout is the number of high-profile contested races. For Republicans only the U.S. Senate seat was contested. The race between John Spencer and K.T. McFarland was at times really nasty. But, that was about it for Republican voters. For Democrats, there were contests for several offices, including Governor and U.S. Senator.
But, still: 5.5%? What kind of democracy do we have when such tiny slivers of the population turn out to vote during the primaries?
The primaries were established in the early 1970s to encourage a more democratic process for identifying who a party's nominee would be. Before that, most states' parties selected their leaders through back-channel and private negotiations - imagine the smoke filled room in the back of a bar somewhere with guys sitting around a table deciding who would be the nominee.
But, the revised primary system has failed to do what it aimed to do. With only an average of about 15% of registered voters of a party turning out to vote on a given election, it is still a thin slice of the electorate who is selecting their party's nominee. And, this is not a random sample of the electorate who turns out. People who vote in primaries are more ideological, better educated, and more knowledgable about the political process, the candidates, and current events - sort of like the old days with the men in back rooms picking the candidates.
I'm not sure there is a way to fix this broken system, and perhaps it's okay that such a small percentage of the people turn out. At least the primary system allows those who want to have a say to have one. The rest can stay home as they always have.
[The question mark at the end of this blog post's title is a nod to John Stewart, who last night, on the Daily Show, had a terrific piece about titles on the crawlers of CNN and Fox News. Why say it when you can ask it?]