As the primaries creep up on us (in the US), I want to make a point against the primary system that seems obvious to me but I’ve not heard made elsewhere. It is simply this: it constitutes an unwarranted violation of the principle of freedom of association.
The States which have primaries effectively impose on political parties a process for selecting their candidates that the members of those parties have no (collective) choice about. I know that in some (perhaps all) states the primary is not binding, and can be overridden by a party convention. But suppose that Candidate A wins the primary and Candidate B is nevertheless selected by the party. Then Candidate B works at a tremendous disadvantage relative to a world in which he was selected by the party without the State having organized an independent vote against it. Why on earth shouldn’t party members (that is, people who have chosen to join and pay membership dues in a party) have the right to decide collectively which candidate they want to represent them, without any interference by the State? Closed primaries are bad enough; in open primaries the State effectively forces political parties to allow open opponents of their party to participate in candidate selection. Sometimes when I think about this I feel like a naïve European—there must be some justification that I am missing. State interference in the process of party formation is so extensive in the US already (it varies by state, but mechanisms include having non-partisan local races, restrictive ballot access rules, restrictions on out-of-state contributions, and the gerrymandering, sorry, redistricting process, quite apart from the stupid winner-take-all system); it just seems flat out wrong to force people who have freely associated for the purpose of contesting political power to share the process with their avowed (and paid up) opponents. So, what am I missing?