Discussions About Independent Voters Would Be Improved if Philosophical Principles Were Set Out

Created: 11 March, 2016
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read

Many authors and commenters on IVN clearly believe that it is wrong for any party, or any state law, to prevent independent voters from voting in a government-administered primary for public office. I am personally undecided about that issue. It would help me to think clearly about this issue if someone will write an article for IVN that explains the philosophical objections some voters have to being required to join a party before they can vote in its primary for public office.

I understand conscientious objection. My father's ancestors were in a peace church, the Brethren in Christ church. The men always applied for conscientious objection status to avoid being sent into military conflict.  Brethren in Christ doctrine was pacifist. In the U.S., Brethren members were allowed to avoid military service.  But in Canada, the government did not recognize conscientious objection to serving in war, and members of the church were imprisoned for their stance.

Going back further in time, I have an ancestor who was burned at the stake in Switzerland because he would not disavow his Anabaptist believes and associations.  His widow and children were smuggled out of Switzerland and found safety in Holland, and later colonial Pennsylvania.

So I understand the element of the human spirit that will not yield to coercion of beliefs.

Nevertheless, I don't understand why anyone would be conscientiously opposed to filling out a voter registration form, joining a party, as a motive to be allowed to vote in that party's primary. After all, the person could switch right back to independent status after the primary was over. I am not saying I don't agree with that point of view. I just want someone to explain it.

If the person says he or she has a conscientious objection to joining a party, that might be a philosophy against ever joining any voluntary group. I don't know and I want to hear from people who have that point of view. If anyone is opposed to ever joining any voluntary group at all, I would be surprised. For hundreds of years, social scientists have observed that voluntary groups are the backbone of successful societies. Societies without many strong voluntary groups are invariably less successful. This research and thinking goes all the way back to the 1830s, when Alexis deTocqueville wrote his famous observations about why the U.S. is a successful country.

Maybe I am misunderstanding, and the conscientious objectors to joining a political party aren't opposed to joining all voluntary groups; they are only opposed to joining a political party. But, again, that is mysterious to me. Political parties seem essential to democratic government. The urge for free people to form political parties is overwhelmingly strong. Every nation in the world with a population of over 100,000 has political parties, unless the government is highly authoritarian or totalitarian and forbids them. People even form political parties when that is illegal, sometimes at risk of their very lives.

I studied Political Parties in college, and every bit of scholarly research that was taught agreed that democracy won't work in large-scale government without parties.

Maybe the conscientious objectors I am thinking about aren't opposed to political parties in general; maybe they just fiercely dislike the Republican and Democratic Parties. But if that is the case, there are other political parties in the U.S., and some of them are quite successful. The Progressive Party of Vermont has eight state legislators now. The Green Party has elected a state legislator once or twice in Arkansas, California, and Maine. The Libertarian Party has won legislative elections in Alaska, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and has a state legislator in Nevada now. The Constitution Party once elected a state legislator in Montana. True, these parties are extremely weak compared to the Democratic and Republican Parties, but that is mostly because election laws prop up the two major parties and squelch other parties. For 50 years I have been working to make our election laws fairer, to permit people to form new parties if they don't like the two old ones.

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If IVN will run an article answering my questions, and delving into these philosophical musings, I will eagerly read it and hope to learn from it.

Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

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