Independent voters in Utah are coming together to play a historic role in the 2014 midterm elections. Traditionally we are typecast by the media as "swing voters", but this year rather than quietly accept this indignity we’ll be working on primary election day June 24th to be visible at a time when we are most invisible. Like Dr. Seuss’s fictional Who’s would say, "We are here, we are here, we are here!"
Primary elections are pivotal in the democratic process and are often the most competitive. But in Utah, independents are compelled to affiliate with a party or accept an abridged ballot. We could stand pat and limit ourselves to voting on issues and ancillary races, but that is acquiescing to an abridged ballot – one largely devoid of candidates — for the simple reason that we would not join a pre-approved political organization. When phrased in these raw terms, the anti-democratic nature of our political structures is hard to miss. Our right to freedom of association naturally encompasses freedom from compulsory association!
This is the plight of the American voter (independent or partisan): first class taxpayers when funding elections – but second class voters at the polls. A recent Gallup poll shows 42 percent of Americans identify as independent. In Utah, it is 44 percent by voter registration totals and was as high as 51.5 percent in 2012. The issue is increasingly urgent as the impact of the individual vote is marginalized by partisan primary systems.
In the last year we witnessed the latest showdown between the parties and the people with the "Count My Vote" initiative for direct partisan primary elections. The initiative did not propose to place all voters on equal footing, but some progress was better than none and independents supported it. Soon the power brokers huddled and crafted a ‘compromise’ allowing independents to select a primary ballot of one of the parties. However, we already could change voter registration 30 days before the primary election. Only a small paperwork barrier was removed. Legislators and party bosses comfortable with their grip on power, indicated during the CMV compromise (at first secretly and now openly) that they would eliminate the new law either through legislation or in court.
Utah independents are organizing support for nonpartisan reforms to our broken system of partisan primaries. For example, in a Top-Two nonpartisan open primary, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, appear on a single ballot made available to all voters. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election. In California, such a system was enacted by voter initiative and has resulted in more competitive elections, less legislative gridlock and candidates’ attentiveness to their entire constituent base.
On primary election day June 24, Utah independents will be making ourselves seen and heard in new ways. We will be holding an informational picket that evening at Trolley Square in Salt Lake, writing letters, petitioning, and bringing attention to this flaw in our election process. We believe, like the revolutionary founders of this country, "that all men are created equal." We hope to lead the way to a government less hampered by partisanship and more able to advance the business of our state and country.
While parties are moving to make all elected positions subject to partisan elections (and party control), we are moving to make all elections nonpartisan with equal access for all voters. Join us in removing the partisan barriers to a more perfect union.
Randy Miller is president and founder of the Utah League of Independent Voters.
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