Independents fight for a voice


The number of independent voters is growing nationwide, and as their numbers increase, so does their desire to be full participants in elections that are currently dominated by two parties.

Leaders of two groups representing independent voters, Independent Voters for Colorado (IVC) and the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, Inc. (CUIP), on Tuesday filed an amicus brief in Curry v. Buescher, the expedited appeal that seeks relief from discriminatory waiting periods imposed on independent candidates. State Rep. Kathleen Curry is the plaintiff in the case.

The brief was filed on behalf of Jacqueline Salit, president of CUIP (also known as IndependentVoting. org), who leads a national association of independent voters with organizations in 40 states, and Joelle Riddle, a La Plata county commissioner and founder of Independent Voters for Colorado.

Riddle, like Curry, was a former Democrat who disaffiliated to become an independent. When she attempted to run for public office, she found that state law prohibited her from doing so.

Colorado imposes a 17-month waiting period for those who disaffiliate from their parties before they can run for office. The Curry suit challenges the constitutionality of this law.

The amicus brief states “…the district court approached the issues before it solely from the vantage point of the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties, and more broadly, the system which they dominate. There is little, if any, recognition of the legitimacy of independent alternatives, nor of the rights of American citizens to participate in the political process as they choose, whether or not that is consistent with the interests of the parties.”

An amicus brief is a written statement prepared and filed by a person who is not a party to a lawsuit but who has a strong interest in the subject matter of the suit and its outcome.

“There are a lot of people in this country who are very unhappy with the political parties and their intense partisanship,” Salit says. “Some are voters, and some are officeholders. But whatever their status, they should have the right to leave a political party and become an independent without being penalized. The parties shouldn’t be allowed to run the political process to suit their own purposes. The bottom line here is democracy, and that’s what Kathleen, Joelle and I are asking the court to see.”

According to the Pew Research Center, about 40 percent of American voters now consider themselves to be independent — the highest level in 70 years. Independents played a significant role in recent elections, including the election of President Barack Obama. An estimated 19 million of those who voted for Obama in November 2009 identify as independents.

But advocates for independent voters say the nation’s political system discriminates against them in favor of a two-party system by, among other things, excluding independent voters from primary elections and leaving redistricting up to the Democratic and Republican parties. Independent voters are working together to change the system and eliminate what they see as inherently unfair policies.

In California, voters recently passed Proposition 14, which opens primaries to all voters. Now, rather than having Democratic and Republican primaries in which Democrats and Republicans vote for the candidates who will represent their parties in the general election, all candidates, regardless of affiliation, will be placed on a single ballot, and all voters will be able to vote. The two candidates who garner the most votes in the primary election will go on to oppose each other in the general election, regardless of their party preference.

In Colorado, however, the battle now revolves around enabling citizens who become independents to run for office without the penalty of a waiting period.

“It is time that the court give voice to independent voters and candidates who are asking for something different, outside of the partisan boundaries that often hold hostage the very issues and concerns that matter to us the most,” Riddle says. “We ask for the opportunity to offer more choice and a truer democracy to the people of Colorado.”