August 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

Those few who voted deserve some thanks

Primary elections are nothing more than a weeding out process to decide who should represent the parties in the general election, Beckmann writes. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

We all heard the lament this week, that only 20 percent of Michigan voters would turn out for the primary elections.

What we didn’t hear was a big thank you from the state’s major political parties whose candidates for November’s general election were chosen by those who went to the polls.

Voters deserve a thank you from the state’s Republicans and Democrats for doing the work that should have been done by the parties on their own dime.

Instead, the responsibility fell on the shoulders of state taxpayers who shelled out about $10 million for the privilege of being told they couldn’t vote for whom they wanted.

The primary election is nothing but a runoff to determine the candidate the parties will present on the ballot in the general election, and it’s a job they do themselves for lieutenant governor, Supreme Court candidates, attorney general and secretary of state, and others, on a regular basis at their state party conventions.

But when it comes to the higher-priced elections like this week’s primary, they let voters pick up the tab, and yet the parties set the rules for voting.

Keep in mind that the primary elections are nothing more than a weeding-out process to decide who should represent the parties in the general election.

So it’s fair to suggest the parties themselves — and not the taxpayers — should pay for doing the work, and that it ought to be done at partisan conventions paid for by the parties.

There is no justification for putting this additional financial burden on taxpayers, who gain no benefit from the exercise.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson disagrees, reciting her views on my WJR radio show this week in asserting that the current primary process is a healthy extension of the Democratic process.

Fine, except we’re all limited by rules put into place by the major parties to restrict exercise of those choices during the primaries.

Voters are prevented from making a true choice by the requirement that ballots be cast either only for Democrats or only for Republicans.

In other words, we can choose from among the Republican nominees or Democratic nominees, but can’t cross over to select a combination of candidates.

That’s hardly a good example of democracy at work. No such restriction exists in the general election.

If we’re wise enough to make the choices when they count the most, we’re certainly wise enough to make the choices when we’re simply winnowing the field during the primaries.

A change to an open primary is the least our political leaders could do for state voters, despite their fears that we might witness chicanery involving massive crossover by members of the parties who choose the weakest opponent for themselves in the general election.

Of course, that represents a sad admission by the parties that they can’t be trusted and they’re not beyond trying to skew the results of elections to benefit themselves — like Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer admits to doing in the 2012 Republican presidential primary.

An open primary might even increase participation at the polls, if that’s really what the parties desire.

But right now, they have the best of all worlds.

The parties set the rules to benefit themselves and the taxpayers get to pick up the tab even if they choose not to be a part of the process.

Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760) from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday.