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My Turn - Why primaries do matter

As my astute and attentive readers may recall, in the Sunday March 25 edition of the Southern Standard, I opined on “The problem with primaries.”

I wrote then that most folks don’t know much about primaries and their lack of knowledge is compounded by their lack of interest. Ignorance and apathy on politics in general and primaries in particular can be hazardous to the health of our representative democracy.

The obvious antidote to political ignorance and apathy is an informed and active citizenry.

There are two kinds of party primaries, closed and open. In a closed primary, only voters registered in the party may vote in that party’s primary.

Conversely, in an open primary, any voter can participate in any party’s primary. Tennessee has an open primary system. This leads to “crossover voting,” which enables voters from outside a party to distort the outcome of its primary. Democrats could vote in the Republican primary for the weakest candidate, hoping that candidate will win the GOP race, but lose to the Democrat nominee in the general election. And vice versa for Republicans. 

Despite the problem with primaries, especially open ones, I believe primaries, closed and open, still matter. First, they are a means to organize the competition and select the party’s nominees to run in the general elections. Second, they help energize and unite their party faithful to propel their nominees to victory in the general elections.

Primaries, warts and all, also still matter because they have the potential to generate higher voter turnout, particularly in presidential election years, but also in mid-term elections when both parties are competitive. We’re seeing this scenario unfolding right now, in Tennessee and around our nation.

Locally, we have candidates aplenty for Warren County sheriff and county executive. Barring any election night voting glitches, we should know who wins in these and other Warren County General Election races by next Thursday night.

Aug. 2 is also primary election time in Tennessee for governor, state House and Senate candidates, plus one open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by GOP Senator Bob Corker, and all 9 U.S. House seats.

Bill Lee, Randy Boyd, Diane Black, and Beth Harwell are in a tight race for the GOP nomination for Governor. Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh are vying for the Democratic nomination. Marsha Blackburn is the GOP candidate most likely to face putative Democratic nominee Phil Bredesen for the U.S. Senate in the November general elections. 

This rich mix of competitive local general elections and competitive state primaries augurs well for a robust voter turnout on Election Day this Thursday. As my colleague and Southern Standard editor James Clark has boldly predicted, “We’ll have right at 10,500 Warren County voters cast ballots in this county election.”

I hope he’s right. 

I also hope my fellow Warren County citizens who’ve not yet voted will take the time to vote for the candidates of their choice in the Tennessee State primary elections as well.

Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at