Independent voters are growing in numbers and influence because we care enough about the damage partisan politics is doing to our republic to sever ties to the parties and seek a new kind of process and real solutions.
So we are pleased that the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, in its recent publication “ Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy,” acknowledges declining participation in U.S. elections, increasing erosion of civil discourse and paralysis of Congress.
Unlike the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which published its report earlier this year, the bipartisan commission recognizes that Americans are concerned about far more than how long it takes to cast and count votes. For example, the report features a recommendation to broaden participation in primaries — an issue completely ignored by the president’s commission, even though we testified at each of its hearings, urging the president’s commission to address this.
The president’s commission acknowledges the sorry state of exclusionary primaries, however, it misdiagnoses some problems and offers solutions that further empower the major parties, rather than the voters. For example, redistricting methods relying on the approval of the Democrat and Republican parties are not nonpartisan. Further, arguing for open primaries as an opportunity for parties to attract more voters by softening their rhetoric misses the point and keeps election politics inside the partisan paradigm.
The rise of the independent voter signifies a new force in reform politics.
We don’t expect special interest groups, such as political parties, to understand or solve problems by empowering outsiders of the system. It is worth reminding everyone that “We the People” — not political parties — own the electoral process.
So what would real electoral reform look like? First, it would be nonpartisan — not bipartisan. We reject the premise that our political system is necessarily controlled by parties. Every eligible voter has the right to participate in every stage of the process without joining a political party.
Polarization is the result of partisan rules governing registration, district boundaries, primary participation, ballot access, campaign finance, and the organization of the legislative and executive branches. The divide we should be concerned about is the one between the American people and the government elites.
Let’s have this long overdue conversation about how to strengthen our democracy. We believe it will require solutions agreeable to the voters, not just the parties. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s report raises some important questions, but the American people must be empowered to provide the answers.
Joe Pickering of Bangor is a member of the IndependentVoting.org election reform committee.