Quinn bids to end 'say-to-play' primary voting

"Let's pass a long overdue law to allow voters to participate in primary elections without having to publicly declare their party affiliation."

Gov. Pat Quinn in his State of the State address

As you probably know, to participate in a primary election in Illinois, a voter must ask an election judge for a party ballot — usually Democratic or Republican — and his or her choice is then announced and committed to the public record.

Some voters don't mind. Through yard signs and bumper stickers and letters to the editor they've never cared to conceal their political leanings. Others, however — and I've heard from many over the years — consider the requirement a significant invasion of privacy and violation of their right to cast a secret ballot, to the point that they refuse to go the polls on primary day.

The Illinois system, in which voters declare only when they arrive at their precincts and can change parties from election to election, stands in contrast to our nation's most common primary system, in which only previously registered members of a party are allowed to help select that party's candidates for the general election.

But Illinois' protocol is more intrusive than the open primary system, in which voters choose their party ballots in the privacy of the voting stall, and the blanket primary system, in which voters can go back and forth, race by race, party to party, on the same ballot. For example, they can vote in the Democratic primary for governor and the Republican primary for secretary of state.

What's not to like about a blanket primary? Bipartisan or independent-minded voters get to pick the candidates they like best, irrespective of party, in total secrecy.

Ask citizens, and I'm sure a significant majority would prefer to have either open or blanket primaries.

Ask politicians, though, and I'm sure they'll recoil like vampires confronted with a crucifix.

One reason is principled. A primary is a party function — not just the semifinals for the general election that it seems to be. It's a "small d" democratic outgrowth of the old caucus system in which party members assembled to slate candidates. Republicans don't particularly want ticket-splitters, fence-sitters and devious Democrats helping them select their standard bearers, and vice versa.

A second reason is practical. For campaigning, fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts, party officials want to know, voter by voter, who's been asking for their ballots and who, therefore, is most likely to support their candidates (and most deserving of speedy service on a request for a new garbage bin? Just asking).

These reasons explain why Quinn referred to his proposal as "long overdue" and why I'm referring to it as dead on arrival.

Deep breaths, drone critics

Chalk this up to my paranoia deficiency, but the idea that U.S. drone-fired missiles are a threat to Americans abroad is very, very low on my list of concerns.

Yes, there are good questions about how our military selects and takes out the targets of what amounts to assassinations — they became urgent last week after NBC published a leaked Justice Department memo detailing the legal justification for attacks on suspected al-Qaida leaders. What are the standards of evidence? What other options are available? How thorough is the oversight?

But "What about the rights of American citizens?" isn't one of the questions.

True, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was taken out in a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen, was born in the U.S. and lived here as a boy and, again, as a young man. And while he hadn't formally renounced his citizenship, he'd been living in the Middle East for nearly 10 years and was an outspoken regional commander for al-Qaida linked to several terrorist incidents and plots.

In the shadowy international war against terrorism, al-Awlaki had metaphorically donned the uniform of the opposing army and taken a position at the head of its ranks. To fretfully compare him to a behind-on-his-taxes U.S. tourist overseas wearing cargo shorts and a camera around his neck as he sees the sights generates heat but sheds no light on the issue.

Isn't this if-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookie alarmism exactly what liberals have been decrying when it comes from gun-rights advocates?

If we require background checks for all gun purchases, then we'll get a national registry of gun owners, and if we get a national registry of gun owners, Dear Leader Obama will confiscate our weapons as he sends the black helicopters to round up conservatives for the re-education camps ...

... isn't much different from ...

if we allow drone strikes against suspected high-value terrorist targets, we'll eventually see unchecked, frivolous executions of perceived troublemakers everywhere, even within our own borders.

Neither helps us sort out the complex issues involved.

Kumbaya, my lord? Not so much.

The most depressing little news story of last week was the report that Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Conn., apologized to his national leaders for seeming to endorse "false teaching" by participating in a December interfaith prayer vigil for the victims of his city's schoolhouse massacre.

In accepting Morris' apology, Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison wrote in an open letter that by joining in the ecumenical observance and offering the closing benediction, Morris "violated the limits set by scripture regarding joint worship, particularly with those who reject Jesus."

In other words, by praying with Those People, even at a time of great pain in which communities try to rally for mutual support in spite of their differences, you suggest to onlookers that the superstitious claptrap and primitive charades in which they believe are not infuriating to God. And this will not do.

Me, I like to think that the best of our traditions underscore the many similar, beneficial values we share and the hopes for our culture we have in common. And that it's near tragic when some can't find it in their hearts to see that.

Comment on this column at chicagotribune.com/zorn.

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