Guest commentary: Don’t call me unaffiliated
I don’t want to be called unaffiliated. That’s what Colorado’s Secretary of State calls me. Merriam-Webster says it means I am “not associated with another.” It is not true.
I am an independent. And as of July 1, 2022, I am associated with 1.7 million other independent voters in Colorado. We are, by far, greater in numbers than any party. And we continue to grow for reasons I will explain below.
When it comes to being an independent, I am not a newbie. I have registered with a party only once when I was turning 21. Back then, a Democratic precinct captain in Chicago promised a summer job if I registered as a Democrat. I needed the job. It was how things worked in Chicago.
“Not a Republican” or “not a Democrat” cannot define us. We are a phenomenon. Ten years ago, we made up 30% of Colorado’s registered voters. Today, we are 45%, and it won’t be long before we become the majority.
Independents are growing because Republicans and Democrats can’t get things done; because they have allowed extremists to determine policy; because they have installed incompetent ideologues in offices of public trust; and because, for too many years, the power of money has increasingly dictated whose interests get served and whose get shafted.
Demographics have influence. Those under 35 are more likely to register as an independent. They don’t see political parties like their grandparents. In a recent national poll of Americans 18 to 29 years old, only 7% believed the United States was a “healthy democracy.”
Election reform makes a difference. Since 2018, Colorado independents can vote in the primary of our choice. And since 2020, when a citizen obtains a driver’s license, renews or changes their address on it, they are automatically registered to vote, unless they ask to opt out. As a result, taking part in elections is easier.
True, as a group, we are not alike. Many are former Republicans and Democrats disgusted by their party’s plunge into extremism. Others are true moderates who will have more influence as an independent than by continuing to play their former party’s “lesser of two evils” game. Some are apolitical. They feel a responsibility to vote but have no allegiance to a party. And there are some, unbelievably, who feel the major parties are not extreme enough.
But there are also huge differences within the Democratic Party and also within the Republican Party. Having different ideas does not disqualify us from being a group.
While we do not think alike, many of us share a common goal. When almost half of Colorado’s electorate is not represented by a political party, it is time we exert influence proportionate to our numbers. It is time independents have more say over how elections are run. Republicans and Democrats no longer deserve the right to completely dominate the political process.
What can we do?
We can make election administration nonpartisan. Why should campaign finance and election oversight be left to a politician whose party has a stake in the outcome? We cannot afford another Tina Peters, the indicted Mesa County clerk. It is an unfortunate truth, but Peters is not a one-off. Today, there are more like her, trying to gain control over our elections. And if the plans Republicans are making actually occur, 2024 election results can be overturned if they don’t like the outcome.
Primary elections need reform. Many states are experimenting with replacing separate party primaries with a single primary, throwing all parties together on one ballot. Proponents say it leads to fewer extremist candidates. There are several different approaches being tested across the country. We should evaluate each and decide which, if any, fits Coloradans best.
Only extremists deny that our future and our strength depend on cooperation. The Democratic and Republican parties have proven incapable. It will be up to all of us to use some independent thinking to turn things around in Western Colorado.
Steve Mandell lives in Montrose. He is a former consumer research director for a Fortune 500 company. He is also a member of RestoreTheBalance.org, a nonprofit educating Western Coloradans about the danger posed by political extremism. His opinion here is his own and does not represent Restore the Balance.
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