Thursday, January 24, 2002

Bill would let all vote in primaries

By Stephenie Steitzer
Enquirer Contributor

        FRANKFORT — Kentucky's youngest legislator will file a bill today that would allow independents to vote in primary elections.

        Rep. James Comer Jr., R-Tompkinsville, 29, believes changing the system would encourage people under 35, who often register as independents, to vote.

        “I feel that people 35 and under are disenfranchised by both parties,” he said. “This will allow them to participate more.”

        Under the current “closed primary” system, Kentuckians who are not affiliated with the Republican or Democratic party are excluded. Voters are permitted to choose only from the candidates in the party with which they are registered.

        That means 171,000, or 7 percent, of the state's 2.6 million registered voters cannot vote in primaries because they are not registered Republican or Democrat.

        The current system satisfies some, including Rep. Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, who believe changing it would weaken the two parties. Others, however, think the system is unfair and discourages many from voting.

        Gatewood Galbraith, a Lexington attorney who has run unsuccessfully for governor three times — once as a Democrat and twice as a Reform candidate — said he would love to see the system changed.

        “That would sure keep those parties on their toes,” he said.

        Mr. Callahan said he believes if independents want to vote in the primaries, they should register as either Republican or Democrat.

        “I respect people who vote for independents, but on the surface that (bill) just doesn't sound right to me,” Mr. Callahan said.

        Northern Kentucky University senior Josh Wice, a Democrat, said he thinks the bill would encourage more young people to vote.

        “They really are more interested in issues and the person than party affiliation,” he said.

        While Mr. Comer said bi-partisan support of the bill will help it pass, some Northern Kentucky legislators aren't confident it will even get through the Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

        Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, said he isn't sure where he stands on the bill, but doesn't think it will make it to the House floor.

        “I agree with the premise that it would increase participation in primaries, but at what cost (to the parties)?” Mr. Fischer said.


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