Opinion

Independents’ voices being stifled again

Unless voters in Kitsap County who have no declared party affiliation want to be left entirely out of future presidential primary elections, they need to do more than toss their ballots in the trash or mail them without declaring a party on the ballot envelope.

Unlike the previous presidential primary elections in 1996 and 2000, the ballots of nonaffiliated voters (who usually call themselves independents) were not even counted this year.

The Legislature changed the law in 2007 to eliminate the opportunity of independents to have their presidential primary election votes counted and reported alongside the votes of people who declared their party affiliations.

No constitutional provision or court decision was involved at all. Our previous presidential primary process violated no one’s constitutional rights.

Neither political party was required to choose convention delegates based on the outcome of the presidential primary then or now.

The parties’ constitutional right to determine their own nominees was completely respected then and now.

The statutory change enacted last year was purportedly intended to avoid angering and confusing voters. Supposedly, people were misled by the opportunity to cast votes in the presidential primary without declaring a party affiliation — and became angry later when they finally realized how it really worked.

Well, is everybody happy now? There is nothing confusing about having your ballots left sealed in their envelopes at the Auditor’s Office — uncounted and unreported — is there?

Frankly, I have no sympathy at all for people who get angry when they learn that they cannot tell the political parties what to do unless they are members of those parties.

I also have no sympathy for legislators who have such an elitist attitude that they could quietly eliminate the opportunity of independents to take part in the selection of the next presidential nominees.

Did any of them ask you whether you wanted that opportunity taken away?

Did they even hint to you that they were considering this action?

Not so far as I can tell.

If you think the votes of independents mean nothing and so nothing has been lost, then you haven’t been paying attention this year.

Appearances mean a lot during the presidential primary season, and the votes of independents contribute to the appearance of success or failure of the candidates as they seek to demonstrate as early as possible that they are electable.

Unless there are serious ideological differences among a party’s candidates, the apparent electability of a person is near the top of the list of criteria considered when choosing among the candidates.

Someone who gets few votes is going nowhere and will get there soon, because voters tend to be swayed by the perception that a vote for that person is wasted.

Rarely can a presidential nominee be elected to the office with only the votes of the declared members of one party. Winning the election usually requires the votes of independents along with the votes of party members.

Of course, the parties can ignore the preferences of independents when selecting their nominees. It’s their right, but they ignore them at their peril.

In many states, the political parties know that it can be unwise to ignore independent voters.

The first primaries this year — in New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina — were “open” primaries in which independents could vote.

On “Super Tuesday,” half of the 23 primaries were either “open” or “semi-open” (meaning that independents could vote a partisan ballot if they specifically requested one).

Yet here in Washington the voices of independent voters have been silenced by the elimination of their opportunity to cast votes which would be counted and reported separately from votes cast by people who declare their party affiliation.

The number of voters affected by this recent change in state law is significant. In 2000, half the votes counted in Kitsap County in the presidential primary were cast by independents.

This year, almost one-fifth of the ballots submitted were left uncounted, because they were cast by independents. No one can know how many independent voters chose not to submit a ballot that would not even be taken out of the envelope.

Our state’s first presidential preference primary election was in 1992, and the nonaffiliated voters were cut out then, too.

They didn’t sit still for this treatment, and the law was changed before the 1996 primary to allow their participation.

Apparently, they will have to act again if they want to play a role in selecting the names that will appear on the presidential election ballot in 2012 and thereafter.

Some people claim that the presidential primary election is a waste of public funds in this state, since neither the votes of independents nor those of Democrats control the selection of any convention delegates.

Giving each of us an opportunity to influence the presidential nomination process with our votes is hardly a waste of money, unless it matters not at all which names appear on the ballot in November.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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