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Why Chief Justice Roberts Is Right and Why It Matters

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published
“There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.” - Chief Justice John Robert, McCutcheon v. FEC

Since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, the Internet has been set on fire by lawmakers, candidates, political commentators, analysts, and average citizens on why this will be the final nail in the coffin of our representative democracy or how the Supreme Court is defending what Charles Koch would call the "principles of a free society."

Either way, most people on both sides of the debate can agree with the above quote from the chief justice, even if they disagree on how applicable it is in this particular case.

The right to not only participate in the election process, but have meaningful participation is basic -- i.e. fundamental -- which means every eligible voter should have equal say on who represents them at all levels of government. It is arguably the most fundamental right all voters should be guaranteed in a republic.

Sadly, however, there are millions of voters nationwide who are disenfranchised by the election system in most states. These voters are told they have to sacrifice their right of non-association (as guaranteed by the First Amendment) in order to be guaranteed the right to complete and "equal" access to elections (as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment).

Currently, there is a lawsuit before a federal court in Newark, New Jersey, challenging the constitutionality of partisan primaries. The lawsuit was filed by, a group founded by the Independent Voter Project and, and supported by a coalition of independent organizations, election reform advocates, media outlets, and others from across the political spectrum.

While members of the coalition may not agree on every issue or on which path is best for election reform, they are brought together by 3 basic principles:

  • The right to a meaningful vote is fundamental.
  • The right to a meaningful vote cannot be abridged by the requirement to join any organization -- including political parties.
  • Public funds cannot be used to subsidize the private activities of political parties.

These are principles most people can agree with. While partisan primaries select major party candidates for the general election, whoever is selected by the voters in the general election is not elected to represent just a party, but all constituents of an electoral district or state.

However, as nearly 95 percent of all congressional races in the United States are considered non-competitive, these races are essentially decided in primary elections where the average voter turnout is 9 percent. When a political leader is chosen by less than 5 percent of the electorate, he or she tends to only represent that 5 percent.

The lawsuit before the U.S. District Court in Newark may end up before the Supreme Court, and hopefully Chief Justice Roberts will remember his words if and when the matter is considered.

Photo Credit: Brandon Bourdages /

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