Amplifying the Voice of the Disenfranchised: Embracing Open Primaries and Ranked Choice Voting in Kentucky

By Paul Oliva

As a nonpartisan voter in the Bluegrass State, I have often found myself yearning for a more meaningful say in the political landscape. It is disheartening to witness races where a particular party dominates the general election year after year, effectively sidelining nonpartisan voters like myself. Whether it’s the stronghold of Democrats in Fayette County, my home, or the Republican stronghold statewide, the absence of an inclusive electoral system leaves many of us feeling disenfranchised and without a genuine voice in the electoral process. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. By embracing open primaries and ranked choice voting, Kentucky can create a more inclusive democracy, where the voices of all voters, regardless of party affiliation, are heard and respected.

In Fayette County, where the Democratic Party has long held sway, nonpartisan voters often find themselves on the sidelines during pivotal primary races. When Angela Evans and Larry Roberts squared off in an ostensibly competitive County Attorney primary in 2022, for example, nonpartisan voters were effectively sidelined and only allowed to cast votes in the general election, which took place after Evans, the presumptive winner, had already assumed the office.

While I was glad to see Evans win, closed primaries have created a system where some countywide offices are elected by party members alone, leaving independents and unaffiliated voters with limited influence. If Evans had lost her primary, I would have surely felt cheated out of my opportunity to weigh in at the ballot box. It’s as if our perspectives, concerns, and visions for the future are deemed inconsequential simply because we choose not to align ourselves with a particular party. This exclusion leaves us longing for a political landscape that values diversity of thought and opinion, one where nonpartisan voters have an opportunity to actively participate and shape the course of our community.

On a statewide level, the stranglehold of a single party’s dominance can be equally disempowering. In a predominantly Republican state like Kentucky, nonpartisan voters often feel marginalized, with their preferences overshadowed by the weight of the GOP base. Closed primaries perpetuate a system where the primary focus is appealing to the worst instincts of the dominant party, leaving little room for candidates to engage with independent voices or work towards building consensus. As a result, nonpartisan voters are left feeling unheard, their concerns and values brushed aside in favor of strict party orthodoxy.

This one-sided approach to politics limits the diversity of ideas and hampers the progress of our great state. Kentucky’s Republican Secretary of State primary, for example, pits an incumbent against two full-blown election deniers, with the winner going on to the General Election as the presumptive winner. Despite a majority of Kentuckians likely preferring our current SOS to his reality-challenged opponents, voters now face the very real prospect of having an election denier managing our elections, thanks to our closed primary system.

But there is hope on the horizon. Open primaries and ranked choice voting offer a path toward a more inclusive democracy, one that embraces the contributions and perspectives of all voters, regardless of party affiliation. Open primaries would enable nonpartisan voters to have a meaningful voice, breaking down the barriers that currently prevent us from participating fully in the political process. It would grant us the ability to shape the direction of our county, state, and country by allowing us to cast our vote for the candidate who aligns closest with our values, without the constraint of party affiliation.

In conjunction with open primaries, ranked choice voting offers a fairer and more representative way to determine the will of the electorate. This system ensures that the candidate who garners the broadest support among the electorate emerges as the victor, regardless of party affiliations. Ranked choice voting fosters an environment where candidates must appeal to a wider range of voters, encouraging collaboration, and fostering a more nuanced understanding of the issues at hand. It gives nonpartisan voters like myself the opportunity to support candidates who may not align with a dominant party but offer fresh perspectives and innovative solutions.

It is time for Kentucky to step forward and embrace these reforms. Together, we can seize the chance to dismantle the barriers that have left nonpartisan voters feeling marginalized and disempowered. By embracing open primaries and ranked choice voting, we can create a democracy where every voice matters, where diverse perspectives are valued, and where our collective vision for a brighter future can truly be realized. The time for change is now, and it is up to us to ensure that our democracy is inclusive, fair, and reflective of the will of all its citizens.

Learn more about ranked choice voting at

How does ranked-choice voting work?

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