Letter: An independent streak
On July 5, 1971, President Richard Nixon certified the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevented any state from setting a voting age higher than 18 years of age. The popular phrase, “Old enough to Fight, Old enough Vote,“ captured the mood of the country. Time flies. Amendment 26 celebrated its 50th anniversary just last summer.
I grew up in New Jersey, in which one parent normally voted Republican and the other Democratic. In 1976, I was a student and 20 years old, eligible to vote in a presidential election for the first time, but I didn’t exercise that right then. While Carter beat incumbent Ford in that election, note that Eugene McCarthy, a former Democratic senator, ran as an Independent. Then in the 1980 election in a match between Reagan and incumbent Carter, I voted for Republican Congressman John Anderson, who ran as an independent. I felt it was OK to do that and got little flack from family or friends.
I now live in Colorado where about 50% of registered voters are “unaffiliated,” including me. Republicans represent 20% of the voters and Democrats make up 28%. Unaffiliateds may vote in our primaries but can either vote only a Republican or a Democratic ballot.
Colorado has made steps toward including more unaffiliateds from being able to participate in state and local elections, such as being election judges, but statutes still prioritize staffing Republican and Democratic party members. Also, through the semi-closed primaries we conduct today, which act as “nominating” events to select chosen candidates for the later general election, unaffiliateds are excluded because we are not organized in a similar party structure. All taxpayers support the primaries through paying election staff, ballot printing and mailing, and tabulating votes, which inherently benefits only the duopoly.
Many states still have closed primaries, which are a subtle but significant form of voter suppression due to current barriers for independents getting on the ballot in the first place and because of the gyrations independents often must go to even to just vote in the primaries.
One of the things I discovered is that I’m not alone, and that across the country there are independents connecting with each other. We have a home at IndependentVoting.org, the national organization of independent voters. They’re even doing a national survey to find out what independents thinks about the current moment as we head toward 2024. I hope you’ll join with me and take it and share your thoughts.
As an Independent, I believe in some of the ideas of each major party but not all the ideas from either one. That is why I want more choice. In fact, it is an issue of fundamental fairness. So, despite progress over the past half century, the independents are “having a moment.” I am hoping that the network of Independents goes from an independent streak to a winning streak.