Primary issue

Primary elections suck. At least, primaries suck the way we handle them in Nevada. And that’s not just the consensus of the editorial staff of the Reno News & Review, but it’s the consensus of callers to the Reno News & Review and the consensus of emailers to the Reno News & Review. We’d bet, if we asked the men and women who delivered our mail, they’d join the consensus.

There are many aspects to this problem. The independents in the office want to be able to participate in this year’s primary election. But unless they choose to falsely declare their allegiance to one of the parties, they are frozen out.

If you have open primaries, notes one of the more informed staffers, you’ll have Republicans deciding who runs as Democrats, and vice versa. In fact, some forward thinking partisans would launch strawman campaigns just to get a weaker candidate on the opposing party’s ticket. It would look kind of like the Republican field in the race for the seat Harry Reid currently occupies in the U.S. Senate.

Primary elections, particularly in midterm elections when there isn’t a presidential race, have incredibly low voter turnout. The reason for this: For the most part, only people who are involved directly in party politics vote in primary elections. Part of the reason for this is only party activists really know the differences among candidates. The other part of the reason is because the majority of the voting population just doesn’t care.

The media barely keep us informed about where the partisans stand on the issues. Why? Because newsrooms have low budgets, and they have to prioritize coverage. Primary elections are expensive to cover because they have large numbers of candidates. But it’s not just that. Primary elections are also irrelevant to the vast majority of voters. The only races that matter are the ones that come in November.

But if you’ll look at the primary coverage that does happen, how much of it is actually about issues? It’s mostly about the horserace and process of politics. And while the media have made strides in assessing the accuracy of political ads and statements made by politicians, political reportage of primary races is about as relevant to voters as sports coverage of cricket matches is to baseball fans.

And yet, voters can see the money spent on political advertising and doled out on political signs and trailers. The talking heads on national television talk about interesting races and Tea Party candidates as though they’re significant. Primaries must be important, right? Not to be too cynical, but if the media would quit discussing races that are irrelevant to a huge majority of us, there’d be less money spent on political advertising. After all, haven’t you seen some ads benefiting candidates who don’t even have opponents in the primaries?

So, with the partisan primaries written into the law, it’s extremely unlikely anything will be done to improve Nevada’s primary system anytime soon.

Our advice to you: If you care about certain races and you know the candidates, vote for your favorite party animal. If not, don’t worry about it. You’ll have your chance to get informed before the election that matters … in November.