Voter Education is First Step to Ending Party Control over Elections

A recent conference at the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics hosted by the school’s director, Dan Schnur, in collaboration with Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) Leadership Institute, provided participants with knowledge about California’s political landscape.

With particular focus on women in politics, voter trends, mobilization, and education, panelists discussed their viewpoints and answered questions in order to enhance the participants’ skills during the training seminar.

Panelist Martha Escutia, former California state senator, stressed the importance of women maintaining a firm stance when making independently-minded political decisions — especially when they are being pressured to take a stance on a policy decision that affects the very same people who make campaign contributions to elected officials.

Through her experience, Escutia recalls being pressured to vote for or against certain matters by campaign contributors and stated “money doesn’t buy votes!”

The best viable option, in her opinion, is for women to remain autonomous, and not give in to political pressure. Instead, leaders should make decisions best suited for the district versus decisions in favor of campaign contributors or partisan preferences.

Panelist Barbara Romero, deputy mayor for the City of Los Angeles, echoed these sentiments by explaining that when it comes to the decision making process, “understanding the issues is the key to being independent.”

In a recent nationwide poll, independent voters nearly outnumber Republicans and Democrats combined, a number that has consistently trended upward. When asked about the increased role these voters will play at the polls, Escutia said:

I think the challenge for the parties, Democrat or Republican, is to really, you know, take a deep look within themselves as to what they stand for and ask themselves the question, ‘why are people registering to vote as independents, and not as a Democrat or Republican?’ And that’s a challenge for us.”

“With the top-two primary system, it makes it possible that an independent can rise to be one of the top two [candidates]. But that also assumes that the independent candidate has access to money and access to a systemic infrastructure,” she added.

In an interview for IVN, Dan Schnur was asked what the biggest obstacle was for electing independent candidates and candidates that can provide policy solutions that meet the needs of California’s politically diverse population. He stated that “even those voters who are unhappy with the two major parties don’t know what the initials ‘NPP’ (No Party Preference) means.”

“Like any other type of learned behavior, the more “no party preference” independent candidates who run, the more accustomed voters will be to recognizing that designation on the ballot and casting their votes accordingly,” he said.

I've come to believe that the top-two primary, when coupled with legitimate redistricting reform, can be the single most effective way of creating more competitive elections.
Dan Schnur
So, if voters are unhappy with the two dominant parties, the NPP designation needs to become relevant in voter education systems.

“There wouldn’t be a need for independent candidates if we had a satisfied electorate and two parties that met the needs of those voters,” he added.

Voter education surrounding the growth of independent voters, no party preference designations, and the implementation of new policies and election models like California’s nonpartisan, top-two primary is desperately needed. National media platforms and major party candidates talk about these topics, but in the end they just don’t get it.

“I have come to believe that the top-two primary, when coupled with legitimate redistricting reform, can be the single most effective way of creating more competitive elections,” Schnur said. “There’s no good reason for other states not to follow our lead, but all sorts of political leaders in both parties come up with plenty of reasons [to try to prevent it] anyways.”

In Arizona, there are renewed efforts to implement the nonpartisan, top-two primary. The state already has an independent redistricting commission, which recently survived a legal challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Congress, U.S. Rep. John Delaney reintroduced a bill that would require nonpartisan, top-two primaries for all congressional and senatorial elections.

However, without a focus on voter education, the parties will continue to control the conversation on elections and voting rights, and people will not understand the true purpose behind these types of reforms.