Secretary Miller calls for "open" primary

August 8, 2002


With more than 224,000 ballots from the Aug. 6 primary election spoiled, Secretary of State Candice S. Miller today called for Michigan to adopt an "open," or blanket, primary to avoid voter confusion about voting the primary ballot.


Spoiled ballots in a primary election are generally caused by "crossover" voting in which the voter casts a vote for both Democratic and Republican candidates.


An open primary ballot allows voters to vote for candidates of their choice, regardless of the candidates' party affiliations.  Michigan's current partisan primary system requires voters to vote for candidates from one party only.


"The rules for voting in a primary are different than the general election, and that creates a lot of confusion for voters," Secretary Miller said.  "Traditionally, Michigan is a ticket-splitting state and in the primary election you cannot vote across party lines.  An open primary would give voters the opportunity to vote for any candidate of their choice."


Statewide, more than 1.8 million people voted in Tuesday's primary election, a record turnout representing 27 percent of Michigan's 6.8 million registered voters.  However, more than 224,000 ballots were invalidated primarily due to crossover voting.


Two other states, Alaska and Washington, have open or blanket primaries.


"It is completely unacceptable to have more than 224,000 ballots invalidated," Secretary Miller added.  "Voters should be able to vote for the candidate of their choice in a primary regardless of party affiliation.  That would eliminate ballot invalidations due to crossover voting." 


In addition to an open primary, Secretary Miller, the state's chief election officer, reiterated her call for the state to adopt a uniform voting system.


"A statewide uniform voting system would ensure the way we cast and count votes, the way we train election workers, and the way we design ballots would be exactly the same for every election," Secretary Miller said.  "Until this change is made, we will continue to have problems in our voting and tabulating process."


Michigan currently employs five different voting systems:  paper ballots; mechanical lever machines; punch card systems; optical scan systems; and DRE or direct recording electronic systems.


To complicate matters, there are different variations of optical scan, punch card and DRE systems used throughout the state.


However, if federal funds become available for upgrading voting equipment, Michigan has already adopted legislation requiring a uniform voting system and is ready to move ahead once funding is received.