Too often, voters have little time to pay attention to politics. Although they may be somewhat informed, they often oversimplify an election by putting candidates into two categories, "good guys" and "bad guys".
Then, on Election Day, the "good guy" they would like to vote for may be nowhere to be found. All the choices, they feel, are unsatisfactory. "Where did these characters come from?" they may ask. "Can't we find anyone better?"
The answer is closer to home than we think.
One of the great things about our American system is that voters not only select which candidates get elected to public office, but also which of those who want to be candidates actually end up on the ballot. In other words, we get to create the choices we will have on Election Day.
That's what primaries are all about.
Primaries are elections that take place before the general Election Day. The dates of primaries differ in each state. Unfortunately, voter turnout for primaries is usually less than 20%. What that means, of course, is that your vote in primary elections carries even more weight, proportionally, than in the general election.
In the primary, you are choosing who is going to be the candidate for a particular party on Election Day. In some states, you have to be registered in the party in whose primary you want to participate. In other states, you can vote in the primary of a party in which you are not registered.
When you vote in a primary, you have a wider range of choices, and are therefore more likely to find a candidate with whom you agree on more issues. Remember, just because a person runs for a particular party, that does not mean he or she agrees with everything the party stands for. People associate themselves with parties for different reasons. In a primary, you get to help a person become a party's candidate for the reasons that you agree with.
In the Hawaii Gubernatorial campaign in 2002, the only pro-life candidate in either party was defeated in a primary, leaving general election voters with a choice between two pro-abortion candidates. That's one example of why voters need to get to the polls on primary day.
When a candidate does well in a primary, furthermore, it builds momentum for his or her campaign. Donors take notice, and so does the media. Voters will also be more encouraged to vote for the candidates that seem to have more support.
Our bishops have outlined our political responsibilities in their 1998 document Living the Gospel of Life. We're not supposed to sit back and lament what our public officials do or don't do. We're supposed to get out there and elect those who will do the job we want done. Let's not just settle for the choices we're given on Election Day. Let's help create those choices in the primaries!