The Politically Independent in America: 'We The Abridged'

Author: Greg Dorsey
Created: 02 October, 2014
Updated: 15 October, 2022
4 min read

According to Gallup, 42 percent of Americans self-identify as independent from either major party. But when it comes to our primary elections, the independent/unaffiliated/nonpartisan voter can be completely locked out of primaries, forced to choose a party in order to vote in a primary election, or live in a state where one party has an open primary and the other has a closed primary, even though their tax dollars subsidize both elections.

Chances are, when the general election rolls around, voters and candidates outside the major parties will not be adequately represented as a result of these partisan systems.

Our 50 states plus the District of Columbia have a labyrinth of open, closed, semi-closed, split, and top-two primary systems. There are only two states that have a blanket, nonpartisan, top-two open primary system where any registered voter may vote for any registered candidate regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof, and the top two candidates move on to the general election regardless of how much of the primary vote they receive -- those states being Washington and California.

When evaluating our U.S. congressional primaries, according to the “Center for Voting and Democracy” (and excluding California and Washington), there are 18 completely closed states, 7 semi-closed states, 5 split states, and 11 open states.

Keep in mind, the term “open” has nothing to do with independent (or non-principle/minor party) candidates gaining ballot access, but simply implies that independent voters, if allowed by said party or the state, can vote in a Republican or Democratic primary.

There are 8 states that are considered open, but have rules such as:

  • Michigan: “Voters do not have to declare a political party to vote; but must vote for all one party once they enter the voting booth.”
  • Georgia: “No party affiliation required at registration. However, on Election Day, voters must declare an oath of intent to affiliate with the particular party for whom they are voting on Election Day.”
  • Indiana: “No party affiliation required at registration. Classified as a modified open primary. A voter must have voted in the last general election for a majority of the nominees of the party holding the primary, or if that voter did not vote in the last general election, that voter must vote for a majority of the nominees of that party who is holding the primary. However, there is really no way to enforce this, and cross-over occurs often. The same modified open primary is used for the presidential primary.”


And let’s not forget about the formidable challenges of the independent candidate. They have the amazingly difficult and sometimes hopeless and futile task of attempting to gain ballot access with petition signatures.

Have you ever tried to invade someone’s private property, disrupt their moment in time, and ask for a petition signature with politically motivated implications? I can tell you from personal experience, this is no easy task.

According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, to be placed on the general election ballot, an unaffiliated (independent) candidate must acquire no less than one percent of the total number of registered voters in the district for the office in which he or she is running.

Let’s look at the unfortunate 2014 petition failure of Russell A. Neverdon, an unaffiliated candidate running for Baltimore City States Attorney. Baltimore City has 415,606 registered voters. The one percent minimum mark for a successful city-wide petition drive would be 4,156.

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Mr. Neverdon spent countless hours canvasing and turned in approximately 5,700 petition signatures to only have 3,099 deemed valid (for example, not having a date next to a signature will void said signature). Mr. Neverdon immediately appealed.

According to Danny Jacobs of the Daily Record Legal Affairs, “during his closing argument, Neverdon choked up as he spoke about continuing his campaign as a write-in candidate should his appeal fail.”

Quoting Neverdon, “this is about the people having a choice as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

His appeal ultimately failed. Russell Neverdon is now a write-in candidate. What real chances do write-in candidates have?

And if collecting a dizzying amount of petition signatures is not enough, also keep in mind that the independent candidate has:

  1. No slate or joint type fundraising potential where multiple candidates from the same party collectively raise money to be funneled in unlimited amounts to the most competitive races within their “slate.”
  2. No FEDERAL party committee monetary support that travels through a STATE party's central committee to be apportioned out for local campaign development. For example, according to OpenSecrets.org, there has been $1,335,884 -- 48 percent Democrat, 52 percent Republican -- transferred from national parties (and all federally registered party committees) to Texas state party committees as of September 8, 2014.
  3. No guaranteed "volunteer base" for fundraising, media awareness, canvasing, phone solicitation, business solicitation, website development, or signage development and placement.
  4. No federal or state partisan committee logistical campaign support of any kind; remember the average House seat costs more than $1 million, and Senate seats can go for tens of millions.

Do the Republican and Democratic parties have a twofold monopoly on our electoral process?

Read the Constitution of the United States of America and pinpoint the section where it declares that only two political parties shall be entitled to represent “We the People” in a fair, just, and genuine manner. I’m still looking; let me know if you find it!