A friend of mine who was a Republican and then became an independent, recently told me he was considering registering as a Democrat. I thought he had seen the light and was a full convert.
He realized voting in the Democratic primary in his solidly Democratic neighborhood is the only way to make his vote count in most state and local elections. Why? Because the winner of that primary will, almost certainly, win the general election in November.
Come to think of it, the same goes for my state Senate, House and Metro Council districts.
The truth is, in more elections around the city, state and country, the primary election is as important as the general election.
Tuesday is the Kentucky primary — and you need to vote like it’s November.
There is the aforementioned reason: The primary, effectively, is the election.
This phenomenon is also increasingly becoming the rule, not the exception.
In 2016, about 40 percent of elections in Kentucky were unopposed — an improvement from the 50 percent in 2014, according to Ballotpedia. That was about on par with U.S. elections, which went about 38 percent unopposed. Yet, unopposed elections have been on the rise since the last census (and gerrymandered redistricting ) in 2010.
Your representative options get even slimmer after that primary — 91 percent of all elections in Kentucky include an incumbent, and of those, only about 16 percent have an incumbent challenger.
All this adds up to say, you had better make your voice heard in the primary, because you may be stuck with that person until they decide to not run for reelection.
Primaries also are an opportunity to use your vote to make a statement, either about the party or the candidate. For those who watch too much MSNBC (like myself), this was the case with Alabama Republican nominee for U.S. Senate Roy Moore. Republican primary voters in Alabama nominated this racist, xenophobic, child molester, twice-booted from the state Supreme Court. It was read as their way of sending Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and other establishment Republicans in D.C. a message (See: four-letter word or single-finger salute).
A large portion of Democrats did the same thing in the 2016 presidential election (with the help of anti-Clinton Twitter trolls from Russia). People objected to Secretary Clinton’s connections with Wall Street, voters’ distaste for political royalty and the perception that she was too moderate for progressives. Her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, became the vehicle for some Democrats to express their disillusion with the party and/or the anointed nominee.
So if, on Tuesday for instance, you want to tell Kentucky Democrats that you want a younger, more diverse, more progressive party, the primaries are your chance to do it.
Your vote in primary races actually counts for more than during the general election, too, because primary turnout is considerably lower, and the votes are limited to only one party.
Take 2014, the last midterm (non-presidential) election, when there was one Republican Metro Council primary and six Democratic primaries — more than the total number of contested general elections (six). Three of the six Democratic primary winners went unopposed in the general, while two others won overwhelmingly.
The average number of votes cast in the primaries was 2,853, while, in the general election, the average number of votes cast was 10,215. This underscores the larger impact of each vote in primaries: Your vote counts (on average) almost four times more in primaries than general elections.
If you fall in the 50 percent of Americans who don’t vote, there probably isn’t anything that can convince you to start voting.
But if you don’t think your vote matters, or don’t think primaries matter, just remember how close Gov. Matt Bevin came to losing in 2015: 83 votes separated him from his closest opponent, Jamie Comer.
In hindsight, I should’ve listened to my buddy, changed my registration to Republican and voted for Comer.
I probably could find 83 other Democrats who would’ve joined me.