In many states in the US people register themselves as “Democrat” or “Republican” (with also various options for “Independent” etc.) when they join the electoral register. These lists can then be used by the parties to hold primaries or caucuses to select candidates, letting only registered supporters of the party to take party. Open primaries* where anyone can vote are also held in some places, but if you only want your party’s supporters to vote in a primary then wrapping registering your support into the electoral registration system is a simple and cost-effective way of doing it.
So should a similar system be introduced in the UK?
Possible arguments in favour include:
- It would be cheap and easy to add registering as a supporter of a particular party to the electoral registration system as we already have a list of officially registered political parties and are moving to individual registration. So it becomes a matter of recording one extra piece of information.
- Lists of registered supporters could be used by parties to run primaries for any sort of election they wish, opening up candidate selection from often the small number of party members to the wider group of those willing to publicly state they are supporters of the party.
- Lists of registered supporters would make it easier for parties to get out their vote and so raise turnout.
- Lists of registered supporters would give parties lists of people they could approach for fundraising, potentially opening up party financial support to a large volume of small supporters rather than the current frequent reliance on small numbers of large donors.
* “Open primaries” in the US means letting registered supporters of other parties take part; in the UK it means letting non-members take part.