Friday, March 18, 2016

Independent voters need open primaries in every state

I am an independent voter. I have in the past registered as a Democrat, Republican and even Libertarian, thinking that I needed to register as such to vote in primary elections. As good fortune prevails, the Democrats have open primaries here in Utah. They actually just recently changed to a caucus system for both parties for determining presidential preference, but they will still have another primary election in June. So I can now turn back to a registered independent voter if I want to.

I don't subscribe to every belief of every party. To a varying extent, I find policy positions that I agree with in each party (and I include more than just the two dominant parties here). But I lean much more towards liberal than conservative. I take what works for me and I leave the rest. There isn't much that I agree with in the Republican party, but I suspect that I might some policy position they have that I agree with if I look hard enough. I just happen to agree with the Democrats more.

Going further down the list in terms of party membership, I like the Green Party, and the Pirate Party. There are even a few policy positions I like from the Libertarian Party, but I'm not beholden to any of them. I'm an independent voter.

I believe that primary elections, being taxpayer funded, should be open to any and all. In fact, I don't think that election financing is the deciding factor as to whether a primary election should be open or not. Primaries should be open because they determine who gets to run for public office. Anyone should be able to vote in a primary election, not just a registered Democrat or Republican. For a caucus, anyone should be able to vote in the Democratic or Republican caucus as they choose.

When I was a Libertarian, the dominance of the two party system we have here was a major source of consternation among my peers. The two dominant parties have forced most of us to trade our right to vote for membership in one of the two major parties. But they have done more than that. They have hijacked the right of nomination. When I was a Libertarian, I was often met with the suggestion that I needed to work within the system. "The Libertarians will never win. Why not just work through one of the two major parties instead?"

The Independent Voter Project has documented how the dominant parties have not only stolen the right of nomination, they have disenfranchise millions of American voters. They estimate that 45% of Americans are independent voters. Those voters hold no allegiance to any party because they find that no single political party represents their interests. They prefer to vote for the candidate rather than the party.

Senator Bernie Sanders has represented Vermont in the US Congress for decades as an independent. I believe that his success as a legislator rests on his status as an independent member of Congress. There is another phrase we can use to substitute for for the word independent that the two dominant parties do not want to hear: "non-partisan". Bernie Sanders is known as the Amendment King in Congress precisely because he's independent.

Sanders has been roundly criticized and accused of hijacking the Democratic Party contest for nomination as candidate for president. Critics say that he's not supporting or helping other Democrats and that he shouldn't get any support from the DNC since he appears to be a Democrat in name only.

Sanders is doing exactly what people have been telling the Libertarians to do. He's working with the system we have to get elected as president. The system, by design, disenfranchises independent voters in closed primaries. The only way that Sanders has any hope of reaching registered Democrats and independent voters is by running as a Democrat. Anyone who criticizes Sanders for his actions is not willing to discuss the disenfranchisement of the independent voter and does not have clean hands.

19 of 50 states have open primaries and caucuses. The rest of the states have, in a not so subtle way, told independent voters to register as Democrat or Republican or they can't vote in the primaries. Primary voting is the exercise of the right of nomination. The right of nomination is just as important as the right to vote in the general election.

A review of The Independent Voter project reveals some interesting statistics:

  • 45% of American voters are self-identified as "independent"
  • Typical voter turnout for a primary election is less than 5% to represent the entire state
  • Voter turnout is at all time lows
So when someone talks about "political capital" from the previous election, they are talking as someone who was elected to office by a minority of voters. The partisan politics of closed primaries for private parties financed by public tax dollars has been a major contributing factor to the decline in voter participation. This is by design. The antidote to this electoral poison is to give the independent voter a voice in all elections, not just the general election.

You shouldn't have to register with a political party in order to exercise the right of nomination. Especially if you think that the two major parties do not represent your interests.
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