Independents are Special Snowflakes, California Edition

Voters registered with the California American Independent Party. By Wilson Bentley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A few hundred thousand California voters are about to find out that they cannot vote for candidates in their preferred major political party in the primary contest being held on June 7th. This will inevitably lead to wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of Bernie Sanders supporters who don’t want to engage with the American political system until they do.

Ed Kilgore explains that many California voters, though not a terribly significant amount in the country’s most populous state, have registered with the American Independent Party (AIP) under the mistaken belief that means they are of “no party preference.” This is awesome in every sense of the word. You see, calling yourself “independent” is way sexier than saying you have no party preference, so American Independent Party it is!

Problem is, the AIP was the vehicle by which segregationist George Wallace ran for president in 1968. Today, and largely because of mistaken affiliation, the AIP is California’s third largest party by membership. In recent times, the AIP has been most closely associated with the Constitution Party and the Tea Party reaction against Barack Obama’s presidency. Accordingly, intentional members of the AIP tend to believe that the U.S. is a Christian nation, Social Security and other federal welfare programs are unconstitutional, income taxes should be abolished, undocumented immigrants should be summarily deported, etc. You know, all the stuff Bernie Sanders supports.

I mock, but that’s because I had been the type of person to whom political independence and special snowflake posturing was attractive. I wrote a while ago about why my vote in 2000 for Ralph Nader was stupid and I regret it to this day. Our democratic republic and presidential system tends to converge on two major parties each consisting of competing factions. Showing up to vote in most primaries as a registered independent or no party preference voter, and finding you do not have a say in one of the two major parties, is like turning up at a soccer match and wondering why you can’t just pick up the ball with your hands, run down the field, and throw it in your opponent’s goal. It shows no understanding of the system in which you want to participate.

I agree with Kilgore that closed primaries ought to make it easier for people to re-register their party affiliation, preferably on the same day as the primary. It should be easier to vote, not harder. For example, New York’s re-registration deadline 193 days before its primary contests was absurd and undemocratic. The good news for California voters is that their deadline is today, a fairly reasonable 15 days before the primary contests.

People are busy, and most don’t spend hours obsessing about this stuff for a hobby like your humble blogger. Convenience in voting should always be preferred in a country that prides itself as the world’s foremost democracy. However, voters do have an obligation to have minimal understanding of the system in which they live if they want to participate in a meaningful way. Independent or no party affiliation registration denies voters a voice in major party primary elections, and frankly, that’s fine.

Parties are state-by-state organizations and are set up to gauge the preferences of their members. Independents can go on and cast a meaningful vote in the general election, because like party-affiliated  voters, they are members of the United States. But in what other walks of life do we allow non-members to have a say in an organization’s affairs? Independent voters aren’t morally wrong to declare themselves untainted by party affiliation, but it’s extremely unreasonable for them to expect parties to welcome their input.


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