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March 16, 2004

The Decline and Fall Of The American Voter

Alan Imhoff

What is so wrong with being an "undeclared" voter?

As always, recent columns in several of the local newspapers berated those individuals who made a conscious choice not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties.

The columnists, or in some cases writers of letters to the editor, chose to point out that the "unaffiliated" voter by their individual choice disenfranchised themselves from being able to vote in the primary election. Almost 18,000 residents of this county had no vote in the choice for judge of the Circuit Court.

Coincidently they also were denied the right to vote for candidates of the Board of Elections.

Well, you say, there were only three candidates for the three openings and hence there was no need to place them on the ballot in the primaries. Correct you are.

Then we have the process itself. As was explained by an earlier article here on The Tentacle, the Republicans and the Democrats are not really voting for a candidate. Rather it is for the number of delegates that get to go to their respective political "parties" - meant just as it is written, several days of expensive partying while going through a brokering process to see the "frontrunner" anointed to lead the Party to victory in November.

But then, there is another wrinkle in the voting. We don't really vote for a candidate for President Of The United States, but instead we are voting for the State's Electors who get to go to Washington and vote for President.

These are but several reasons why many individuals are making a conscious choice not to be affiliated with the two national parties.

Combine these constitutional processes, with party rules, and now the power of the "instant media" to declare winners and losers even before the final vote is in, and you have a democracy sliding down a slope of disengagement with voters.

These disinterested voters, whether declared for a party or choosing not to be affiliated, are growing in such numbers (just review any elections statistics on turnout) that they are allowing fewer and fewer "interest groups" to manipulate those who do vote to their advantage.

Just look at the "media" bandwagon effect on many of the Democratic candidates for president, as was aptly pointed out in that previously mentioned article.

And just to add another wrinkle into the mix, don't forget the power of not choosing enough candidates to fill out multiple slots. For instance, if we had had four candidates for the three slots on the Board of Education, oftentimes many voters will vote what is called "single shot," often at the behest of special "interests."

My final observation in this decline of the American voter process is that in a nation that has perhaps 40 different models of SUV's, or a hundred brands of peanut butter, where - in the most case of just about anything - we have such an array of choices it sometimes is hard to make, we only have two major political parties.

And with the media's feeding frenzy of the past several decades if you are a Republican you are automatically labeled "right-wing" with a corresponding labeling for a Democrat as a "liberal."

I think the root problem for this is the fact that we graduate reporters from school who have not been given much if any American history to study; that it is all so easy for them to write about only two conditions, right or left, forgetting that there are hundreds of gradations between the two "extremes." It is also easier for editors because of time constraints to get "copy out."

So, is it any wonder why more and more individuals are opting out of the traditional two-party system that has evolved over the past two hundred years.

Then we come to local politics. For decades I have heard time and time again that the political party structure really does not mean that much at the local level and if true, why would the two local State Central Committees be afraid of having open primaries?

Just imagine how many more registered voters would come out if primaries were truly open. Where everyone, Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated, or third party could vote. No confusing set of exclusionary rules that would disenfranchise a significant percentage of the registered voters for the "non-partisan" races of judges and Boards of Elections.

The main reason given is that Republicans should have the exclusionary right to choose their candidates and the Democrats cite the same mantra.

But just imagine how much more interesting the process would be if any registered voter could vote their person of choice, no matter what the party.

That might be one gigantic incentive for the party faithful to get off their respective duffs and vote the party line instead of ho-humming through the primary because their candidate(s) have been pre-selected.

Well, so much for the pipe dream. Instead I fear as more opt out of the two-party system, those in each party who know how to manipulate the process will see more and more successes for their way of thinking. Then one day we may wake up when one of those two parties has total control and there is only one decision maker calling the shots for who runs and who doesn't.

Can't happen here you say? To that I encourage you to study a little bit of world history and then maybe you can encourage those new reporters to do the same. Maybe the slippery slope won't be so steep.



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