Independents should quit posturing

Sure, we could have a people’s veto of the law overturning the ranked-choice voting referendum, but that seems like a lot of work.

If the goal of ranked-choice voting is to shake up a system that keeps sending guys to the Blaine House who can’t muster a majority of the vote, maybe there’s a simpler solution. Maybe the 370,000 so-called independents could show up and vote in the primaries so the people elected to govern the masses are better qualified and committed to doing so.

Don’t get me wrong – I support ranked-choice voting and hard work – and there’s no doubt ballot questions are a cottage industry in Maine. Signature gatherers, campaign sign printers and annoying phone callers wanted – always.

But if it’s really “more voice” that people want, as the ranked-choice voting campaign slogan suggests, then the largest group of registered Maine voters should speak up in the selection process of candidates during primaries even if it means having a checkmark they despise on their voter registration card.

Requiring independents to register with a party would be stripping independents of their independence, right? They’re unenrolled because they have beliefs and policy prescriptions separate from and superior to any framework offered by major-party platforms, right?

Wrong. Whether they like it or not, the political profile of so-called independents aligns more or less with a faction of either the left or right, according to a recent study by Pew Research Center, so there is no excuse to skip primary voting even if you plan to vote third party in the general. There is a role in the primaries for everybody to play if change rather than personal brand is the priority. Increased participation will improve the system we have while ranked-choice voting gets worked out.

Pew’s ideological spectrum of politically engaged people is divided in eight camps – four on the left and four on the right. Everybody can fit in and contribute if they want to – and there’s even a test to help wayward voters find the best booth in June. If you are scored as a “Core Conservative,” a “Country-First Conservative,” a “Market Skeptic” or a “New Era Enterpriser,” you can vote in the Republican or Libertarian primary. Those deemed “Solid Liberals,” “Opportunity Democrats,” “Disaffected Democrats” or the “Devout and Diverse” can vote for Democrats or Greens.

But independents shouldn’t be forced to register with a party in order to vote in its primary. Political parties are so partisan and political! Checking a box for one might give you cooties. It’s so unfair, right?

As burdensome as it may seem to check a box and mail in a ballot, it’s hardly unfair. It’s politics. What’s unfair is so many of the people who get elected don’t do their job governing. Bonds get held up. Budgets don’t pass. Immigration and health care reforms stall. The tax code is distended and bureaucracy bloated. What’s unfair is that extreme candidates, selected by margins of only a couple hundred people, leap from the frying pan in June into the fire of November when the rest of us get burned. Unenrolled voters who are too good, smart, moderate or independent to participate have some nerve asking others to keep voting for their ballot questions about ranked-choice voting. If you can’t be with the ones you love, honey, love the ones you’re with.

There are 379,175 unenrolled voters, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, 331,513 registered Democrats, and 279,682 registered Republicans.

Partisan identity for voting in primary elections is not a trait we are forever wired to or stuck with like a tattoo. It can change. Ranked-choice voting is a good idea that will not be achieved outside the political process. Unenrolled Maine voters should get in the game.

Published in the Portland Press Herald 10-29-17