Rock: Unaffiliated voters are organizing to make their voices heard (column) | VailDaily.com

Rock: Unaffiliated voters are organizing to make their voices heard (column)

Joanne M. Rock
Valley Voices

Joanne M. Rock

Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily staff writer Randy Wyrick has done a good job of informing unaffiliated voters of their options for voting in either the Democratic or Republican primary scheduled for June 26. In his instructional article in the April 21, 2018 issue ("Unaffiliated voters can participate in primaries"), he gives key facts about how unaffiliated voters can now vote in one of the two major party primaries, thanks to a ballot initiative passed in 2016.

Eagle County Clerk & Recorder Regina O'Brien reinforces that for your vote to count, you can only vote in one party's primary. O'Brien should be commended for making timely system and procedural changes (including more ballot mailings) to ensure all potential voters are getting the information needed to make their decisions. The results of the upcoming June primaries determine who will be on the final ballot in November for the two major parties, including which candidate each party selects for governor.

Unaffiliated voters in Colorado now make up more than one-third of all our voters, and it is thought that opening up primaries to independents may give rise to more moderate candidates.

Eagle County has more than 12,500 voters registered as unaffiliated (44 percent of all voters), while neighboring Summit County has 9,000 unaffiliated voters (47 percent). Both major parties have well-established organizations with very active and involved local members. Minority parties are composed of a handful of much smaller groups such as the Constitution or Green parties, for example, but locally there is no formal legally formed organization known as the "Independent Party" that exists today or is currently planned now, to the best of my knowledge.

Many of the persons identified as "unaffiliated" voters may or may not align themselves with one of these minor parties, but often are individuals drawn to candidates who are truly Independent. Further, voters who self-describe as "independent" do not always vote for the same "other" party, year-in and year-out. They are more likely to vote for the candidate in any given election that they feel will best advance an important issue or makes progress in an area of political and everyday life that is most relevant to them, which significantly impacts the voter and his or her family directly.

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In the past several months, a group of people has been meeting in Garfield County to explore how to organize as "independents." This group, instigated by and under the leadership of Randy Fricke (known local journalist and Glenwood Springs Post Independent contributor) from the Garfield County area, has already voted on a name and is making final changes to its mission statement.

The group is now known as the Western Colorado Independent Voters and, while it is still in its infancy, is working on its platform and principles.

At this point, the group's intent is that it does not want to be considered an official party, does not accept corporate or lobbyist money — nor will promote any independent candidate who does — wants to promote education of issues, in particular related to voters' rights and districting issues and inclusion of various viewpoints, and hopes to advance candidates with novel or alternative solutions to long-standing problems or critical issues.

Members of two different Denver-based political organizations have been to a few Garfield meetings. A few groups/persons from Grand Junction to Pitkin and Eagle counties have expressed interest in this group, and many have attended the Garfield meetings. The next meeting of the Western Colorado Independent Voters is scheduled for Tuesday, May 15, at 1:30 p.m. at the Garfield Public Library. The public, especially Eagle County independents, is welcome and encouraged to attend.

So while the initial impetus for passage of the ballot initiative from 2016 may have been to get more voters of all stripes out to vote in the primaries to advance more moderate Republican and Democratic party candidates, the increased involvement early on and drawing in of more unaffiliated voters should bring greater awareness, especially to independent and other minority candidates, as this change brings more diverse people into the voting process earlier.

Finally, although this rule change, passed in 2016, affects primaries, it does not change how you vote in the November general election. Voting rules for the November general election are business as usual, and just as a refresher, whichever way you voted in the primary, you are not locked into voting for the same candidate in the general election or voting strictly along the same party with which you registered originally.

I hope this information is helpful to understanding how the rule changes impact your voting rights and gives you an introduction to what is happening locally with independents.

This opinion was submitted by Eagle County resident Joanne M. Rock, who is pursuing elected office in November as an independent.