February 9, 2008

"Democracy broke out"

I have to love this AP story on the New York Primary: First there's the title: "Analysis: Despite bosses' plans, voters won in NY primary". Then, in the details, we get to remember why the primary moved up, and what the unexpected result was:

Thank New York party bosses and the state Legislature for giving New York voters a chance of mattering in the presidential primary season this year.

And voters responded - loudly.

More than 33 percent of Democrats voted and 20 percent of Republicans voted. Most New York primaries have had turnouts in the teens, and were too late to make much of a difference in the national race. Even in 2000, just 19 percent of New York Democrats and 22.5 percent of Republicans came out in what would become the historically close George Bush-Al Gore election.

But democracy wasn't the first thought on party leaders' minds a year ago when they moved up New York's primary by a month to be part of the 24-state Super Tuesday, before any candidate had a lock on a nomination.

Eleven months ago, the Legislature overwhelmingly voted to move the 2008 primary with just two people in mind: Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Lawmakers figured the sure New York win for the pair of New Yorkers would give them a boost to the White House when they needed it most - early.

I can't help smiling about this. The leaders of both parties hoped to deliver New York State to their preferred candidates at a time when it would matter more. Instead, the much larger effect was an awakening of voters suddenly given a choice that mattered.

I'd really like to imagine that voters will stay this interested in other primaries, but know it's unlikely. I know that this seems to be the season of national discontent for New York voters, and I'm hoping that much of that discontent is eased over the next few years.

Still, it's worth pausing to consider what New York State's own politics might look like if we had a vibrant culture of contested primaries and contested races, showing voters again and again that their votes matter. I don't think it's impossible to get there - but it will take some change, not all of which is likely to happen, as this did, because party leaders mistakenly think it's in their interest.

Posted by simon at February 9, 2008 1:30 PM in ,
Note on photos