Missouri is a classic American Purple state. It is coveted by presidential candidates much as Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Florida: It voted twice for Clinton, but also voted for Bush, McCain, Romney, and Trump -- all by narrow margins.
Missouri has gone ten years without two senators of the same party, and 133 years since it sent representatives from only one party to DC.
And yet, the state has never sent an independent to DC.
Missouri rarely has any independent representatives in its House or Senate -- occasionally there is one (out of 197 total seats), and currently there are zero.
Missouri State Representative Keith English was the only independent in 2015, after having broken with the Democratic Party. He lamented, “if you don’t belong to the two-party system, you won’t get elected.”
Why is there such a gap? Why do independent and moderate Missourians have no representatives at all?
It’s because the game is rigged.
Not in the sense that votes aren’t counted -- by all accounts they are. But it’s who you vote for that’s the problem.
In the general election, you’re stuck with two choices. You may not like either of them all that much: too bad.
It’s too expensive and difficult for third parties to get on the ballot and compete with the two big parties. In fact, how we vote actually makes it worse.
Think of how many times someone has said, “a vote for a third party is a vote for X,” where “X” is whoever that person really doesn’t like. And that’s not fantasy -- it’s true.
If Ralph Nader’s voters had voted for Al Gore in 2000, he would have been president. A similar picture could be painted for libertarians and Hillary Clinton. Right now, a vote for a third party is a wasted vote. So, guess what: you get two choices. Deal.
But perhaps you can influence what choices you get at the primaries? A bit… but not really. While you can choose which party you vote for in the primary, you must pick one.
If you’re not a die-hard Republican or Democrat, you’ll be swamped out by those that are, as moderates split themselves into small groups in each primary.
In the end, whoever the die-hard Republicans and Democrats want will end up in the general election. Once again, you’ll be stuck picking between the two--whether they share your beliefs or not.
In the end, either a die-hard Republican or die-hard Democrat will end up representing you. And they’ll go vote how their partisan base wants them to. You’re shut out.
There’s a good reason that Missourians don’t get real representation in DC or Kansas City. The rules of how we vote have been designed to favor the two parties. While they may hate each other, they agree on one thing: they don’t want more competition.
They want their people to go to the general election, and they want to slug it out just between the two of them. The tide will ebb and flow between the two big parties… but that’s about it. No real change comes.
This isn’t how democracy is supposed to work. It’s not how the Founding Fathers intended it. And Purple Missouri doesn’t get represented as a truly purple state, full of people across the ideological spectrum with nuanced ideas that don’t fit into the standard party platforms.
The gap between reality and representation is glaring, unfair, and undemocratic.
This needs to change. And it can. The voting rules are behind this mess, and if we change the rules, we can create a system in which all Missourians are represented, at all levels of government.
The good news is that there’s hope. It seems Missourians are getting fed up enough with this that they’re organizing. A nascent movement to change the rigged election rules is starting to grow, and the movement has organized itself into “Missouri Fair and Open Elections.”
They’ve partnered with national organizations that have successfully fought for better representation of American voters. And it seems they’re on the march.
So maybe -- just maybe -- things can change.