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Why Political Parties Control Elections

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The Changing Electorate: People are Rejecting Party Labels

The largest political designation of US voters is actually no designation at all. Over 40 percent of Americans self-identify as politically independent, and in some states like Massachusetts, more than half of voters have declined to register with a political party.

Millions Leave Major Parties

Few Participate in Party Primaries

Most elections are decided in partisan primaries where less than 10 percent of voters nationwide participate. As a result, candidates of the dominant party are forced to appeal only to an activist ‘base’ of voters that turn out in disproportionate numbers than the general electorate. Decreased participation leads to unpopular representatives who are often elected by less than 4 or 5 percent of the actual electorate.

Parties are Actively Discouraging or Preventing Nonpartisan Voters from Participating in Our Democracy

If the parties can agree on one thing, it’s that they don’t want to compete for the votes of nonpartisan voters. KentuckyHawaii, and South Carolina are only a few of the many states where the parties have tried to close the electoral process to nonpartisan voters.

The Republican Party, for example, led the challenge against Washington state’s nonpartisan primary system and has fought to close primary elections to nonpartisan voters in Idaho and Virginia.

The Democratic Party led a fight in the Hawaii’s courtrooms to end the state’s open primary system and argued that the party’s right of association trumps a voter’s individual right to participate in the seminal case: Democratic Party v. Jones.

Both parties teamed up with minor parties to challenge California’s new nonpartisan system, failing in 3 different attempts to reclaim primary elections as a private, rather than public exercise.

Major Parties Conduct State-by-State Effort to Limit Voter Participation

Taxpayers are Footing the Bill for Party Primaries

How Political Parties Rig ElectionsIs our election process rigged?WATCH: What the two parties don't want you to know... Posted by Independent Voter on Wednesday, September 30, 2015

These low-turnout party primaries not only encourage partisanship (a “run to the right or left” effect), but they are paid for with public taxpayer dollars.

IVN estimates suggest that over $400 million was spent by taxpayers in 2012 to fund primary elections alone; tax dollars that come from voters who the parties actively prevent from participating in the process. In closed and semi-closed primary states, only voters who affiliate with a particular political party can vote in the primary.

(Update 7/18/2016: Research conducted by Open Primaries found costs for the 2016 primaries were in line with IVN’s findings for the 2012 elections.)

This requirement stands in direct contrast with the freedom not to associate as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Political participation cannot be predicated on one’s membership to a private political party.

Parties Cost Taxpayers $400 Million

Consequences of Partisanship: Our Government is Not Representative

The consequences of institutionalized partisanship are very apparent. The 113th Congress holds the lowest approval rating of all time — 9 percent. Partisanship has stretched Congress to the point where accomplishing its primary function, passing a budget, is cause for national crisis.

Bipartisanship is Not Always the Answer

The phenomenon of gerrymandering, for example, is largely a consequence of bipartisanship. One party carves out a favorable district to secure safe elections for years on end and the other does the same. Party bosses can guarantee outcomes in uncompetitive districts where the party favorite has no real challenger.

Due in large part to gerrymandering, only approximately 35 of 435 congressional elections are competitive in any given election year. That means in more than 90% of these elections, the winner is actually decided during the primary, before the majority of voters participate.

Read About Gerrymandering

Nonpartisan Elections Create Electoral Competition

In 2010, California had the least competitive elections in the country. In 2012, the first year nonpartisan primaries were conducted in California, Ballotpedia found that the state had the most competitive elections in the nation.

Electoral Competition Levels the Playing Field

The goal of a representative government is to elect leaders beholden to their entire constituency, not just one party or powerful special interest. Yet, right now, the legal scales are tipped in the favor of Republicans and Democrats. To understand how the parties have taken hold of the electoral system, it is first important to understand how primary elections work.

How Primary Elections Work

Even Most Politicos Don't Understand the Legal Complexities of Primary Elections

Learn More

Political parties are using the publicly funded electoral system to insulate themselves from competition. This disenfranchises a large portion of the electorate, gives parties unfair access and control over our democracy, and forces legislators to be accountable only to their partisan base and not the whole electorate.

Repairing the Process Promotes A Constructive Political Discourse

The consequences of a dysfunctional and increasingly polarized government are far-reaching. It has bled into our political dialogue so deeply, issues are no longer debated on their own merits, but along carefully focus-grouped and scripted Republican or Democratic talking points. Substantive debate has taken a back seat to partisan gamesmanship. Candidates, who used to run campaigns of persuasion, now run campaigns of negativity and fear carefully targeted to mobilize their partisan bases.

If we can make our representatives accountable to all of us again, they will start talking to all of us.

The Independent Voter Project believes that democracy functions best when the most people participate. The goal of its open news platform, IVN.us, is to encourage participation in the public dialogue by the broader electorate. The goal of its coalition efforts at EndPartisanship.org is to make sure all voters can exercise their right to a meaningful vote.

Photo credit: Justin Ormont / Wikimedia Commons

Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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1771 comments
tinoritiye
tinoritiye

My Uncle Jacob recently got an almost new Acura RL just by some parttime working online from home... use this link fly38.comᴵᴵᴵᴵ


Sonya Robillard
Sonya Robillard

I hope a lot of undecided voters out there are watching GOP Convention this week and give Donald Trump a \U0001f44d up And vote for Donald Trump He will help America be great again God Bless America

Richard Punzo
Richard Punzo

Vote the candidate, not the party# GO BERNIE!

Michael Sarda
Michael Sarda

This has to change. Voters should agree on term limits if Congress does nothing about it - which is more than likely. After two terms, time to come home - just like the President.

Byl Sottile
Byl Sottile

Let the UN create our Voting Districts? Non-Biased

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

That could be a extremely dangerous thing. Anything is fair game. The bill of rights could be deleted.

Tina Bailey Hart
Tina Bailey Hart

Nothing can be changed for this upcoming election, so we have to deal with what we got. After this election, maybe just maybe things can be changed to some degree. I truly hope so.

Sherry Rondi
Sherry Rondi

I'm beginning to wonder if a major characteristic of independents, i.e., intransigence, has led them to exclude themselves from the fray. Thus, they can say they are not responsible.

Luanne Taylor
Luanne Taylor

can't change this problem until 2020...but that will be here so soon!

Thomas Gammill
Thomas Gammill

A 3rd party vote is greater than a vote for the duopoly.

Cheryl Sedlock
Cheryl Sedlock

Seeing it is always the electoral votes that pick the next president, we really don't have much say. I'd like a real honest election but this is the worst behavior of any election I've ever witnessed, just UGLY. People lying and murdering and chaos ruling the way. I wish it was over with already. Just get Barry out of Our White House and in a padded cell for mental illness evaluation. He is a danger to society and he is totally deranged. Hillary is not Presidential material, she is a socialist Democrat with no interest for the American People but only for Muslims just as Barry has. She has too long of a fraud and corruption and murder record to even be running for office. I would love to see the electoral vote eliminated and we get back to basics. It's way to easy for the Shadow Government to manipulate our votes. We have socialist democratic dead people apparently voting and Gov. Brown is letting illegals have drivers licences so they too can vote in the election if they wish. What part of Illegal does Gov. Brown not understand? He needs to be impeached and sued.

Christopher Combs
Christopher Combs

One, you insulted everyone but Trump so I have to guess you think he's great. Two, that's not how the election system works. You are right the electoral college should go away, but that would only have meant president Gore instead of Bush. Since you seem to like Drumpf, I doubt you would have preferred Gore over Bush. I'm not going to teach you how and why the electoral college exists or works, but you can understand it easily with a little research.

Roger Smith
Roger Smith

The American people are sheep being led to the slaughter

Fred Marsico
Fred Marsico

What if there were dozens of political factions? Or hundreds? Since we have the means of technology to communicate, across the world in fact, within seconds of typing out an opinion to share with such a vast audience, why is there a need for more and more financial support for a candidate? The very idea that money plays a part in the electoral process is a major prohibitive factor in why the voters have such a limited choice. I myself have often thought about public office, but the cost of doing so is prohibitive under the current paradigm. If process was fair, I think not only would more 'regular' men and women seek to represent their constituent voters, but they would not seek to do it as a career. One way to limit the career politicians is to limit the benefits and perks accumulated by long terms. All elected representatives of the People must participate in the same programs they enacted for the People. I'd prefer having to choose among a dozen candidates than just two, especially when the choices are really made by the party and representative of the People. That's why so many people call their choice the lesser of two evils. Excellent article and I will share!

Brian Shank
Brian Shank

Re: "I'd prefer having to choose among a dozen candidates than just two, especially when the choices are really made by the party and representative of the People. " This article is claiming that a top-two system is great, but that system also limits voters to only two candidates. So perhaps you should re-think your idea that this is an excellent article?

Norm Nelson
Norm Nelson

It's time to END the Electoral College!

JF Nowinski
JF Nowinski

Ahhh no its not. I'd rather see you ended.

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

The electoral college is not the problem, it is part of what makes us a republic. Popular voting is a democracy aka mob rule, rule by the masses. The founders warned against this.

Jayne Turner
Jayne Turner

We the People voted for trump Trump won. Elitist. Get over it. We want Trump Get behind him and support him all the way to the White House. Vote for Trump!

Maria Lin
Maria Lin

...and THAT is why even though the PEOPLE wanted Bernie Sanders you got a pile of putrid feces....there is NO Democracy in America....may as well be Communist China or OLD Russia...

Maria Lin
Maria Lin

True...'If you can keep it...if you can keep it".....

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

We were never meant to be a democracy. We always have been a constitutional republic

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

The best way to change these ballot excess laws that favorite the DNC and the RNC is to elect member the state general assembles that will change these laws to allow other parties to enter the political arena.

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

The problem is getting others elected at even the state level.

Susan Homan
Susan Homan

The DNC backed themselves in a corner by stacking the deck against Sanders. This is not the road to unity but the road to party extinction. It is also a grave crime against democracy. A crime we can never endorse.

Jim Kaufman
Jim Kaufman

TERM LIMITS will cure this in a heartbeat!!

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

How so? Would not the next office holder be of the same or a different major party?

JF Nowinski
JF Nowinski

We have term limits. It's every November and Americans love to call it election day. Obviously you aren't one, or you'd know this.

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

JF Nowinski lol, elections are not term limits, when the mindless masses keep reelecting the same corrupt officials. We need actual term limits.

John Swanson
John Swanson

And the end result is that we get a bunch of extreme wackos from both parties, who can't agree on anything except naming the occasional post office.

Randall Oliver
Randall Oliver

They make things too complicated for a reason. To control who, where and when. Move voting districts and money talks. It really quite simple one citizen, one vote and majority rules. \U0001f609

Karen Tongate
Karen Tongate

This year we the people's voice is being heard. Stand strong people this is for our children and grandchildren

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

Except the people's voice is not being heard. The majority of people don't like either of the major parties or their candidates.... Yet one of them will win.... So as always most people's voices are not really being heard.

Ed Casper
Ed Casper

The most effective way to end partisan ship is for voters to marginalize political parties.

Rick Utgaard
Rick Utgaard

Another thing to take into consideration is that if a party doesn't get 50% of the votes, the senate gets to pick the president.

JF Nowinski
JF Nowinski

Th House does. Once again showing ignorance for the documents that founded this nation. You should be so proud of yourself.

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

Are you simply saying that the Senate would be better at picking than the House would be?

Rick Utgaard
Rick Utgaard

I apologize ... It may be the house that selects the president.

Rick Utgaard
Rick Utgaard

You are a moron JF ... the point is, even if the Independent got 49% of the votes ... far more than a Democrat or Republican, they would never be president since the house or senate would choose. The party that holds the house or senate will pick their candidate regardless of what percentage they had won in the election. Now I know what JF stands for.

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

It's not based on 50% it's 270 electoral votes. And if no one get 270 electoral votes, the house selects the president and the senate selects the VP.

Rick Utgaard
Rick Utgaard

All I am saying is that if nobody gets 50% +1 of the electoral votes then, which would most likely happen if we have a three party system then the house and senate will select the president and vice president. The voters are already being taken out of the election system and a three party system would almost guarantee that. Some say we have selection system now. I am sure the establishment on both sides of the isle will do their best to make sure a Bernie or Trump will never happen again.

Barb Ormins
Barb Ormins

I have told people that it is more important to vote in the primary than the general. Of course this year the "impartial" dnc did a great job of making primary voter's votes not count.

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

If you don't support either of the 2 major parties, voting in the primary is pointless.

Brenda Gayle Tharp
Brenda Gayle Tharp

they need to abolish the party's or establish tie breaker by recognizing another one or two.

Maurice Clemens
Maurice Clemens

Corruption,pure and simple!\U0001f621\U0001f621\U0001f621