I have voted in every election since 1974. I have voted for Democrats. I have voted for Republicans. I have voted for third parties and I have voted for candidates with no political affiliation. My current voting status is no party preference, since I cannot register as an independent. (The American Independent Party is a right wing party started by Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1968.)
I prefer to think of myself as a “Groucho Marxist”, which has more to do with Grouchoism that Marxism. Groucho said he would never join a club that would have him as a member. I feel the same way about political parties.
Having no such ties gives me a sense of independence. I am not bound to automatically favor anyone or any position. Sometimes I like conservative ideas. Sometimes I like liberal ideas.
But there are times when I don’t care for the extremes that both sides employ to achieve their goals. That’s when I will likely vote for a third party candidate as a protest. I know that candidate has absolutely no chance of winning, but at least I can vote for him or her without holding my nose.
Now that California has limited our choices to two on the November ballot, those options are no longer available. Even worse, sometimes we only get to choose from one party. The lesser of one evil, depending on your party’s prejudice.
Both partie’s leaders opposed the so-called “jungle primary” when it was on the ballot. It was sold as a remedy to extremism. If you had to choose between a moderate and a radical of the same party, it was believed that enough voters from the rejected party would naturally vote for the moderate candidate and there would be less gridlock in Sacramento and Washington. This year’s senate race seems to bear that out. The incumbent Dianne Feinstein failed to receive her own party’s endorsement over the insurgent Kevin DeLeon.
However, many Republican and third party voters have no interest in voting for Democrat or Democrat Lite. In the last same party senate race between Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez, almost two million voters left that category blank, and a PPIC poll taken in July of this year says 20% of likely voters, 47% of Republican voters and 24% of independent voters will opt to do the same come November 6.
If we are going to tinker with our voting system, I would rather go with an “instant run-off” option, where voters are allowed a second choice on the ballot. If your first choice doesn’t garner a winning majority, you can still state a preference for another candidate and eliminate the need for yet another costly election.
The current system discourages participation. Is it worth attempting to coerce voters into voting for candidates they don’t care for in the name of moderation? Shouldn’t the parties have to live with their ideologies, for better or for worse? Should we be able to vote our conscience rather than someone else’s party preference?
I’ll vote for freedom of choice any day.
(This opinion appeared in The Union on October 2, 2018.)