Wisconsin's open primary system draws fire from some Democrats

Mordecai Lee abhors crossover voting but believes "all of the candidates in my party are bums." So, as other Democrats vote for John B. Anderson in the Republican primary here Tuesday, Mr. Lee, a state legislator, will write in the name of the Illinois congressman in the Democratic column.

Mr. Lee is part of a minority here in Wisconsin who are in agreement with the national Democratic Party position that convention delegates should be selected with no help from crossovers.

The party is appealing a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholding Democratic delegate selection based partially on the votes of Republicans in an "open primary."

Both Mr. Lee and Democratic state chairman Joseph Checota, the main defender of the current system, foresee a possible challenge to the Wisconsin delegation at the national party convention in New York this summer.

They note that at past conventions Wisconsin delegations have voted to unseat other delegations.

"Politicians," Mr. Lee says, "have very long memories."

"It's 'gotcha' time," Mr. Checota said last week. "All these people who were brought to the bar of fairness by Wisconsin are giving it to Wisconsin."

After Mr. Checota said that, the Carter campaign and Democratic National Committee chairman John White joined California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in saying they would not challenge the Wisconsin delegation.

But both Mr. Lee and Mr. Checota say a challenge could be brought by a small group interested in historical vengeance, partisan advantage, or publicity. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has not said he would abide by the results of Tuesday's primary.

The system was designed by "biting Bob" LaFollette about 75 years ago as a way of limiting the power of the business-oriented faction of the state Republican Party. Crossover votes for such candidates as Sen. Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and Representative Anderson this year have been portrayed as part and parcel of Wisconsin's independent, progressive tradition.

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