Independent voters are not second-class citizens

In passing a bill last month to make it more cumbersome for independent voters to vote in a primary, the leadership of both political parties in the New Hampshire House of Representatives have declared that nearly 40 percent of New Hampshire voters are second-class citizens.

Note that I use the term “independent voters,” rather than the term of choice by the political establishment – “undeclared.”

Voters who choose not to affiliate themselves with one of the two “major” political parties are NOT undeclared and certainly not indecisive. They have made a clear choice that neither party represents their viewpoint very well.

Leaders of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party claim that this bill is intended to help strengthen the “two-party system” and to prevent independent voters from monkeying with elections in one way or another.

Let’s be clear about something. The “two-party system” is a creature of the two parties. It is not a constitutional entity, nor does it have any fundamental legal standing over and above any other party. If Republicans and Democrats are concerned that more of our citizens choose Independent status than either of them, they should look within their own collective souls rather than trying to force voters to join their ranks unwillingly.

The real problem with the current system is that Independent voters, who make up the largest voting bloc in the state and by rights should be the drivers of the voting process, have to make a choice to take one ballot or another during a primary.

If the party establishment wants to treat the majority block of voters with respect they should simply initiate an open ballot process for the primaries. Let every voter choose the candidate they favor right from the start. But don’t hold your breath folks, it ain’t gonna happen.

Likewise, establishing an open ballot primary for independent voters would resolve the matter, but that won’t happen either. There would be lots of lip-flapping about the cost of creating a separate ballot for Independent voters.

OK — three separate ballots would increase the cost of running an election. So let me ask this:

The Republican party in New Hampshire has about 30 percent of voters registered in their column, the Democrats have about 30 percent of registered voters in their column, Independents have about 40 percent of voters in their column. So which group most deserves to have its own ballot? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to answer that question.

If Democrats and Republicans want to flap their lips about expenses, let them figure out how they can print one ballot for both of their parties and give the real majority party its due.

Alas, all of this is little more than an intellectual exercise. As long as the two major political parties are more interested in protecting their turf than in protecting and enhancing the democratic process we will continue to see a process that makes it more difficult to be an Independent.

The least the two parties can do is to respect the choice of the majority in New Hampshire and leave the current law alone. Let’s hope that the Senate has the good sense to kill this, or that Governor Lynch will stand with the folks who put him over the top last November and veto it.

Wayne King of Rumney, publisher of Heart of New Hampshire magazine, is a former state senator and 1994 Democratic nominee for governor.

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