Much of the media's election coverage two weeks out from Election Day is focused on what kind of wave we are seeing -- red or blue -- and how Donald Trump will affect the outcome of the midterms. However, what often gets overlooked are the stories that matter to independent-minded voters.
Here are the top 5 stories in nonpartisan news to start your week:
1. Nation's Only Independent Governor Suspends Re-Election Bid
Alaska Governor Bill Walker announced late Friday that he is suspending his campaign for re-election. At the crux of his decision are polling numbers and feedback that suggest he (a) did not have a clear path to victory, and (b) was less likely than Democrat Mark Begich to the beat the Republican nominee in the race, who Walker least wants to win.
The biggest takeaway from this story, and the thing that most media outlets will overlook, is that this highlights the perils of an independent candidate running in a partisan system. From the very beginning, the election system is manufactured to give people only two viable options, and anyone outside the Republican and Democratic apparatus are nothing more than spoilers.
As mind-boggling as it sounds, this includes independent incumbents. The incumbent governor in this race is being treated like the spoiler, because he does not have the institutional support that major party candidates have, which would pressure Begich to drop out instead.
2. Independent Steve Poizner Steps Closer to Making History in California
In contrast to Walker, No Party Preference candidate Steve Poizner, running for state insurance commissioner, is in a strong position to make history in California. Polls continue to show Poizner closing in on majority support.
Unlike Walker, Poizner advanced to the November election in a nonpartisan, top-two open primary -- meaning he only has one major party opponent -- Democrat Ricardo Lara.
In other words, the spoiler effect doesn't come into play, and even though Poizner does not have the same institutional support as a major party candidate, it is easier to get the media's attention when you are one of only two candidates in the race, and have the experience of already serving in the position.
Nonpartisan election systems provide quality independent and third party candidates opportunities that are near impossible under traditional partisan systems. If elected, Poizner would be the first independent candidate elected to statewide office in California.
3. Gerrymandering Reform Primed for Success in November
Four states have nonpartisan redistricting reform on the ballot in November -- Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah. All of these proposed measures propose taking control of redistricting out of the hands of partisan lawmakers and give it to an independent commission -- though the details for each vary.
Though each reform stands a good chance at being approved by voters in November, Amendments Y and Z in Colorado arguably are in the best position to win. That is because there is no registered opposition and it has the endorsement of several nonpartisan groups and the two major parties.
In states like Michigan and Missouri, advocates for anti-gerrymandering reform have had to deal with legal challenges and opposing campaign tactics from special interest groups and party insiders. Fair Maps Colorado, the campaign behind Amendments Y and Z, doesn't have to contend with such opposition, making passage much easier.
4. Maine Voters Set to Use Ranked Choice Voting in US House and Senate Elections
Maine is the first state in the US to use ranked choice voting for US House and Senate general elections. It became the first state to use the voting reform in statewide, legislative, and non-presidential federal primary elections in June.
History and research show that ranked choice voting changes the campaign dynamics in elections. Candidates in races with 3 or more candidates, in many cases, can no longer rely solely on the first choice of voters. They must campaign for other voters' second or third choice as well.
The impact this has on campaigns, according to advocates, is that it not only elects candidates with a majority, but creates a less negative and healthier campaign environment. It is much less advantageous to be negative about a voters' first choice when the candidate is trying to get their second choice.
Stay tuned for an interview with independent Marty Grohman, who is running for Congress in Maine's 1st Congressional District. Marty and I have already talked about his support for ranked choice voting, but we will discuss the full impact ranked choice voting has had on the campaign.
5. Oregon County Could Make History with New Voting Method
STAR voting is on the ballot in Lane County, Oregon. Voters will decide whether or not they want to implement a brand new voting method not used anywhere else in the United States.
STAR voting stands for Score Then Automatic Runoff. Voters can give each candidate a score between 1-5 stars, and the two candidates with the highest score move on to an automatic runoff. Then, whoever has the highest score among all voters wins.
Imagine rating candidates on the ballot like you do an Amazon product or Uber driver.
I sat down with STAR Voting for Lane County Campaign Manager Sara Wolf last week to discuss how STAR voting works, and what it would mean for Oregon and the future of election reform. Listen to the full conversation here.
Also In Nonpartisan News...
League of Women Voters Drops Senate Debate Sponsorship over Candidate Exclusion
The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania removed itself as a co-sponsor of a US Senate debate held over the weekend, because the debate excluded third party candidates on the November ballot.
"The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, which was a co-sponsor helping to organize the event, assured the Libertarian Party candidate, Dale Kerns, that he would be invited to the debate, only to be rebuffed by other event organizers," reports IVN author W.E. Messamore.
“Make no mistake, this is cronyism: big media corporations colluding with big government political parties to keep out competition,” says Dale Kerns. “The mainstream media screams about Russia stealing elections, but behind the scenes they pull the strings to keep the duopoly in control.”
The spokesperson for the station hosting the debate, WPVI-TV, said the third party candidates failed to meet the required polling threshold of 10%.
What's interesting to note is that plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the FEC are challenging a similar requirement imposed on presidential candidates by the Commission on Presidential Debates. We are waiting for a decision in that case.