10 Ways Political Parties Control Your Vote

Author: Daniel Kim
Created: 28 April, 2015
Updated: 15 October, 2022
9 min read

1. States Send Delegates to the Electoral College that Represent Parties, Not People

When envisioning the electoral college, the goal of the Founding Fathers was to send electors who were “free from any sinister bias” to select the next president.

“They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment.” - Federalist Paper 68

Today, however, electors are chosen because of their service, dedication, and loyalty to their political party. Most states have a ‘winner takes all’ electoral system, which presupposes that the electors cast their vote for president not "in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America,” but because they are bound by their party to vote in unison and loyalty to that party's nominee.

Party Bosses: We Choose the Candidate WE WantRNC and DNC party bosses are openly admitting that our votes don’t matter… In order to keep their power over voters, they’ll do whatever it takes to stop party outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. If they don't count our votes, we shouldn't pay for their primaries. Sign the Petition: http://bit.ly/Count-Our-VotesPosted by Independent Voter on Friday, March 25, 2016

2. Campaign Finance Laws Give Political Parties Special Exemptions Even in Nonpartisan Races

Political parties, through the legislatures they control, have written campaign finance laws to give their parties special advantages that no one else gets. In San Diego, for example, political parties are the only exception to the individual donation limits for local elections, even for offices and elections that are supposed to be nonpartisan. (See, San Diego Municipal Code § 27.2934(b) and § 27.2935(a) that allow parties (but no one else) to give $30,000 to an individual candidate.)

So how hard is it for someone to funnel money through a political party to simply skirt the individual donation limits?

In local elections, this imbalance makes it nearly impossible for those without major political party affiliations to compete, even in supposedly nonpartisan elections.

3. Gerrymandering: Parties Draw District Lines to Insulate Themselves from Competition

Gerrymandering is the act of selectively drawing district boundaries so that voters of the opposing party are crammed into a small number of districts, allowing the party in power to win virtually every other district with impunity. An effective gerrymander will trap one party in a small number of safe districts, after which the other party spreads its voters out over the rest of the state. A tell-tale sign of a gerrymander is a district with mind-bogglingly shaped boundaries.

Often, both parties work together to draw districts so that as many elections as possible are made “safe” for the political parties in power. This is why approximately

90% of elections today are ‘decided’ in the primary.

Statistically, gerrymandering helped ensure that around 94% of House elections in 2014 were noncompetitive, meaning that only 6% of general elections even mattered. This means, if you couldn’t vote in the major party’s primary, you never really had a voice in the election at all.

Voters in some states have tried to fight back, however, by creating independent redistricting commissions through the initiative process. But the fate of these commissions might be in danger:

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Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature, for example, filed a lawsuit against its citizen redistricting commission, arguing Arizona’s voters didn’t have the power to take away the drawing of districts from the legislators in power. A ruling by the Supreme Court could result in the dismantling of the independent commissions in Arizona and five other states.

4. Taxpayers Fund Primary Elections that Benefit Private Parties

Believe it or not, when the closed primary system was originally enacted, it was a democratic reform: it offered a publicly-administered alternative to the smoke-filled room selection process by party bosses. The direct primary was an attempt to democratize the process by forcing parties to deal with their in-party controversies under the watchful eyes of the public.

Nevertheless, closed primaries serve a private purpose: to select candidates that represent the members of a political party. And, each year, fewer and fewer voters identify with either major political party. And each year, fewer and fewer voters participate in the primary elections as a result. And finally, although only party members are allowed to participate in closed primaries, taxpayers foot the bill for these elections.

5. The Media Discusses Issues Not Based on Merit, But on the Two Major-Party Positions

Let's face it: we have two political parties that are the sole source of political competition. As a consequence, we’ve divided our political discussions into a two-sided debate between the red team and the blue team.

A Pew Research Center study published in October 2014, for example, shows that the media can be divided into separate echo chambers for each team. These teams of people rely on separate groups of news sources, with little overlap elsewhere in how they gain their information. They are likely to consult with like-minded individuals and like-minded news channels, at the exclusion of other sources of information. Consistent conservatives are more likely to have friends that share their views, while consistent liberals are more likely to end a personal friendship or remove someone from their social media network due to differing beliefs.

Just recently, a recent study by the University of Kansas confirms that 41% of voters are only concerned with their party “winning” an election than being right on a given issue. It is of little wonder, then, that mainstream media channels play into their viewers' easily identifiable and inherent political biases: It keeps them coming back for more.

6. Parties Are Directly Involved in Administering Elections

Although elections are supposed to offer an organized system by which we elect representatives, even the minutiae of that system is controlled by major parties. For example, in many districts of New York, citizens cannot be poll workers unless they are members of one of the two major parties.

There is even a growing body of scholarly work addressing how parties have hijacked the inner workings of the election system. This law review article from Gilda Daniels, a professor at the University of Baltimore, details how states have slowly outsourced election administration to both major political parties, often leading to patently illegal activities, such as voter suppression, voter caging, and voter intimidation.

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7. Chief State Election Officials Are Appointed by Parties

Thirty-six states have partisan secretaries of state or lieutenant governors who oversee the public election process. And thirty-two states have no restrictions on the partisan activity of its election officers. Of those with restrictions, many of them are slight, such as restricting election officers from holding another public office.

The dangers of having partisan election administrators are not trivial. As leading election law scholar Rick Hasen explains, election overseers aligned with both major parties routinely implement policies that hamstring voters from the other party.

In short, states have routinely implemented electoral systems that put a conflict of interest between a voter’s right to fair and secure elections and a political party’s pursuit of power.

Imagine if the umpire at a baseball game was actually on one of the two teams!

What if we suggested that the election process was supposed to serve the fans of the entire league, and not just the two teams on the field.

8. Parties Write Laws That Directly Limit The Ability of Opposing Voters to Cast Their Votes

Across the nation, the major political parties have written laws that keep voters that do not support them away from the polls. Parties have successfully closed previously open primaries, shifted power from primaries to caucuses, implemented voter ID laws, limited early voting days, and even restricted the ability of get-out-the-vote organizations to register new voters.

In fact, party-affiliated poll watchers in some states have the power to confront individual voters about their registration or citizenship and thereby invalidate their vote. Challenges in the courts to such broad voting restrictions, as one would expect, are ever so commonplace. And many of them -- such as these challenges on voter ID laws -- are unsuccessful.

Predictably, voter turnout has decreased as political parties have exerted more control over the process. Less voters in the party primaries means that only the most dedicated and party-faithful voters are left.

When only the party faithful are left voting, only the party faithful are represented. That leaves us with more partisan legislators who have an interest in enacting more partisan laws.

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9. Parties Appoint the Judiciary and Control Judicial Elections

Although there are various methods of appointing judges, they are all centered around the political parties’ power. Seven states have partisan judicial nominations. Many other states leave their judges to the mercy of political-party influence: partisan elections are used in twenty states for local trial court judges, nine states also elect judges for courts of appeal, and seven states elect judges for state supreme courts.

These judges face pressure to make judicial decisions to win votes and special interest groups to raise funds. Justice Pariente of the Florida Supreme Court explains that a politicized justice system endangers “our right to appear before impartial judges who are neither bought nor bullied."

Even the most powerful judicial body in the United States, the Supreme Court, along with all other federal judges, are appointed by the President and approved by Congress. This has made the Supreme Court so motivated by partisan influence that the justices are routinely categorized as “liberal” or “conservative."

This influence over the judicial appointment process gives political parties an inordinate foothold in another process that is supposed to be completely nonpartisan.

10. Other Benefits

Additionally, political parties are tax exempt, receive discounted postage rates, and have free access to voter registration records. Historical voting records, for example, give partisan political operatives the ability to identify and ‘turn out their base’ much easier than nonpartisan candidates.

For the presidential election, the two major parties control the debate process (and in turn the public discourse). This is because the Commission for Presidential Debates is controlled exclusively by Republicans and Democrats who have made it nearly impossible for third parties or independent candidates to participate. In particular, the threshold to participate in the major debates requires support from 15% of likely voters based on the results of three major polls. But how can a candidate be expected to gain that much support among the electorate if he or she can’t even enter the televised debates or otherwise be heard by the American people?

Unsurprisingly, the 15% requirement has become a topic of much debate and is being challenged by multiple groups, including Gary Johnson’s Our America Initiative and ChangeTheRule.org.

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Closing Remarks

Private political parties have managed to influence nearly every aspect of our public election process. As a result, both major parties have managed to insulate themselves from meaningful competition, leading to an increasingly divisive political climate in which candidates are forced to toe the party line.

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