In theory, the notion of a political party selecting its own candidates without crossover voting in primary elections is reasonable. Many states use closed systems that require partisan registration.

In practice, it would compel Utahns to declare party allegiance, something many of them are loath to do. A 1994 Deseret News poll found that 74 percent did not want party registration or closed primaries. There is nothing to indicate that has changed.Reticence to register, with its accompanying hassles, would weaken the already abysmal turnout for primary elections and is not in the state's best interest. Further, it would disenfranchise Democrats whose only opportunity for meaningful influence in some instances is on the GOP side of the primary ballot.

Utah is, in essence, a one-party state. In many races, the Republican primary is the only place voters-at-large can cast a meaningful ballot. With fewer GOP primaries due to Republican nominees being selected at county or state conventions, voters don't get much choice. By default, they automatically end up with the GOP candidate since there is no or very weak Democratic opposition in the general election.

That issue of crossover, of course, is the argument being used by Utah's GOP leaders in a subtle push for closed primaries. They charge that crossover Democratic vote unfairly influences which Republicans wind up on the final ballot. If Demos turn out en masse and get the weaker Republican candidate sent on, their Democratic contender has a better shot against him or her in the final election, the theory goes.

It sounds sinister, but history doesn't bear it out. In fact, such practice often has a mitigating influence that results in the election of more mainstream candidates than those sometimes nominated at conventions by more extreme elements of each party.

Though Utah is a Republican state, there is little straight-ticket voting come November. Many moderate Republicans and middle-of-the-road Democrats are prone to vote for whomever they see as the best person for the job, regardless of political affiliation. Partisan politics is diluted by a strong bloc of independent voters.

That bipartisan, middle-ground stronghold has a leavening influence that prevents the state from tilting too far to the right in spite of conservative dominance. It should continue to be encouraged through maintaining open primary elections and not requiring party registration.