Combatting Restricted Ballot Access

Making room for the independent voter

Published about 1 year ago in North America and Politics

independent voters party affiliation midterm elections us midterm elections election

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Polling estimates conclude that more voters would be willing to register as Independent than in previous elections, in 2018. (Source: BBC News)


Local-level political parties are akin to a sorority. There’s a regular fee that is doled out by faithful members of the local club to the higher power. Friends are bought via donations to said political party. The benefits to membership? Access to local party infrastructure, i.e. volunteers, donor networks, and vendors that supply mass communication capital and voter databases. Without these tools, independent candidates play a constant game of blind man’s buff. By the time election season comes around, all candidates, regardless of party, encounter difficulties. The difference with independent candidates lies in battlefield visibility. Essentially, they are blindfolded; there are no pledge sisters to hold their hand. To move democracy forward, the requirements for independent candidates to get on the ballot should be lowered. 

Not only are independents at a party machine deficit; they crawl through mud to form a  mobilization strategy. Volunteers, donors and staff in building a campaign are often taken for granted. These legs of the campaign stool are most commonly drawn from the ideological poles of the parties. Axiomatically, Independents are without an official party. While Independent candidates do have platforms, they are typically influenced by very diverse political-affiliation backgrounds and thus, do not share a single unified ideological front. With an increased polarization of the electorate, many parties that are categorized as "Independent" tend to focus on the enfranchisement of extremes: alt-right Infowars vs. left-wing Bernie-Bros.

Since they are without deeply ideological voters, independents face hardships in building up a base. To alleviate this barrier, independents could potentially benefit from building local coalitions of voters that are committed to pushing policies that best benefit a district, as opposed to special interests. Independents must unite under the guise of pragmatic leadership rather than a specific, third party platform. 

Players without a team are always going to be at a disadvantage.The argument that independents should have access to a party-like infrastructure is unrealistic. Such a world could be imagined through an “Independent National Committee” on par with the respective party committees. Instead, the white glove should be thrown down for local coalitions in congressional and State House/Senate districts that are made up of constituents. Second, lawmakers should turn their attention towards less restrictive ballot access for independent candidates. Ergo the world is opened up for independent campaign networks and by extension, the sensible voter. 

An Independent candidate has never appeared on a U.S. House government ballot in North Carolina. To have a place on the district ballot, North Carolinians must submit a petition of 4% of the number of registered voters (Source: Richard Wagner, Ballot Access). As of July 14th, 2018, there are a total of  6,965,135 registered voters in the state, putting independent candidates at a 2,786 petition signature threshold. To most Americans, this number probably seems minuscule in comparison to the population of their district, their state, the country. For the purpose of wiping the rose colored glasses, a reality check is pertinent. 

Most candidates running for State House and State Senate candidates are lucky to have a staff that outnumbers their closest family members and friends. The prospect of collecting over two thousand signatures for someone without a key to the blue and red sorority house is daunting, if not discouraging.Still, the general postures apply: parties have a network of willing staff and volunteers, while the latter does not. 

In order to level the playing field for independent candidates, ballot access laws should be reformed to reflect that disadvantage. The lowering of petition signature requirements for independents is a good place to start. This way, candidates can focus on talking to voters instead of fighting for a spot on the ballot. 

Are independent candidates not able to get on the ballot due to a lack of volunteer and donor networks, or, are these supporters unwilling to bite the bullet because independents can’t get on the ballot? The largest deterrent Americans face when deciding whether or not to check the independents’ checkbox, is the concept of casting a wasted vote. Perhaps, the typical line of reasoning runs as follows,  “If I vote for an independent candidate, there is no way they will win the election. Therefore, my vote won’t matter. I thus choose to vote for my second choice”. 

As a solution to the independent voter's dilemma, if ballot restrictions for outsider contestants are lowered, independent candidates may be viewed as viable options. Voters should rally around the flag, a flag that was borne by common-sense initiatives, not by partisan brawling. People will be more willing to abandon their previous party affiliations if there is a safety net behind their decision of voting as an Independent. Not only that, but donors and volunteers will rally around candidates who more specifically encompass their needs. 

The middle-way donor exists in the Silicon Valley tech pioneer. Young adults who at one time or another have uttered the, “I am socially liberal, and fiscally conservative," is a potential Independent voter. Most importantly the median voter exists in every American, who has ever said, “I am sick of party politics”. To harness their collective power, Independents running in our next election must go beyond just getting on the ballot, they must bridge the gap between themselves and reluctant partisans. 

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