Beyond the Two Party System

We are rapidly closing in on the election, and I’ve been mulling over a feature the New York Times ran a few months ago in my head. ‘Fewer Young Voters See Themselves as Democrats,’ the headline ran, implying that the Democrats’ traditionally young base is eroding. Of course, many of the voters interviewed said they didn’t see themselves as Republicans either. What seemed to be suggested was that young voters were adrift in a sea of uncertainty, perhaps not surprising since neither political party is really making waves these days.

What I wanted to say, after reading the article, was ‘what about nonpartisan voters?’ As a nonpartisan voter, I want to take all these young folks by the hand and say ‘come on in, the water’s fine, really.’ I’ve been registered nonpartisan since I filled out my very first voter registration form (I think now it’s ‘decline to state’). Here in California, where we have a semi-open primary, that allows me to vote any ballot I want if the party has indicated it accepts nonpartisan voters, which usually ends with me voting the Democratic ballot in primaries, but I am not a Democrat, and I don’t vote along their party lines.

My father has also been a nonpartisan voter his whole life. It must be a Smith thing. People sometimes seem astounded when I say this, and I have to dig out my voter registration card to prove it. It’s not just that the United States has more than two political parties, but there is a space specifically for people who do not want party affiliation, which is me. I’m not interested in any of the party platforms or any of the partisan wrangling that happens in this country, and so, I am registered as a nonpartisan voter.

In effect, this means that I get promotional mailings from every political party, I guess because they think I’m fair game, or perhaps worth a shot or an attempt at conversion. I toss it all in the trash after taking note of which campaign is being supported with the most glossy mailers so I know to vote against it. (Or for it, if the glossy mailers are against it.)

I’m always surprised by how many people are not aware of the fact that you can register nonpartisan. From state to state, there are certain problems with it people should be aware of before registering; for example, if your state has a closed primary, you can’t vote any ballot but the nonpartisan one, which means that you have no input on candidates during the primary stage. But, otherwise, you can waltz into the polling place and ask for whichever ballot you feel like voting (or request, if you vote by mail like I do), and then in the general election, obviously, you get the general ballot.

Sometimes I feel like people are under the impression that there are only two parties in US politics, and that’s simply not the case. Two parties have a stranglehold and have made it effectively impossible for any party to break, but that’s something that could change. Honestly, I would love to see someone running as a nonpartisan candidate, even if the person probably wouldn’t win, to draw attention to the fact that, hey, nonpartisan voters exist. And what would the establishment do if a nonpartisan got into the White House?

I’m not interested in cooperating across party lines or any such. What I’m interested in is what an individual politician has to say, and whether the claims made are borne out by the politician’s actions. Political party affiliation just isn’t that important to me. For me, the domination of two parties in the US is something I find profoundly distasteful, as it tends to shut down discussion and it has a suppressive effect on progress. The major parties tip toe around each other or obstruct each other, as the case may be, and meanwhile actual people can’t access the things and services they need because the government is so tied up in political bickering. What kind of world would we live in if politicians actually put the needs of the people before their own parties, focused on improving things for all their constituents instead of the ones with the same party affiliation?

The Times positions these young voters as disaffected, confused youth. Maybe they’re neither. Maybe they are just not impressed with the party system, but not really sure where to direct their frustration, confusion, and anger. Maybe some of them would register nonpartisan, if they more fully understood what the option meant and they were aware of the ramifications for primary voting in their states. When I was registering young voters in college, I was always very careful to point out that voters had a number of party affiliations to choose from, as well as being able to select nonpartisan/decline to state as an option, and I provided voters with information about what what would mean.

The youth vote is important, and it’s big. If young voters started banding together to reject party affiliations, I guarantee you that we would see a shift in the electoral process in the United States. We would have to, because the voters would finally be indicating that they aren’t satisfied with the current system, and need it to change; that they are tired of working from within it to change it, and want to start deconstructing it from the outside. I’d love to see a wave of nonpartisan/decline to state registrations by 2012, when party politics is going to become especially fraught, and especially important.