Independent voters seek to have their voices heard
When it comes to organizing, there’s a fine line between independent voters staying independent and suddenly becoming a new political party.
That was one of the dilemmas a group of about 30 unaffiliated voters from Garfield County grappled with Thursday at what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind Independent Voter Town Hall Caucus held at the Glenwood Springs Library.
Unaffiliated voters in Colorado stand to have unprecedented sway this election year, as a result of the decision by state voters two years ago to open the Republican and Democratic primaries to unaffiliated voters without making them register with one party or the other.
Come June, unaffiliated voters will receive mailed ballots for the two primaries along with registered Democrats and Republicans. Instead of having to wait until election day on June 26 to affiliate with one of the parties, they can simply cast a ballot in whichever primary they choose, and maintain their unaffiliated voter status.
Beyond that, Randy Fricke of New Castle, who organized the Thursday gathering, said he would like to see independent voters rally around some issues and either seek to persuade party candidates or come up with their own independent candidates to run for state and national offices.
“I think it’s up to the independents to bring democracy back to America, because nobody else is going to do it. It’s not there,” Fricke, a one-time Democratic candidate for Congress, said.
Fricke said he remained a Democrat until 2010, when he become frustrated with the political loggerheads developing at the statehouse in Denver and in Congress and decided to disavow both parties.
“I didn’t like what I saw, the politics was just getting so negative, and it was closing out people’s voices,” he said. “With the open primaries now, we are moving into a very progressive time, and we’re here to see how we can move it to the next level.”
The assembly of people appeared to run the gamut from disenfranchised Democrats and Republicans alike to those who’ve never identified with either party. Conversation moved from organizing around common issues and endorsing like-minded party candidates to analyzing party platforms and raising money to put forward independent candidates.
“There’s an inherent tension between the need for collective action and fact that we are independent,” observed Gwen Ballard of Carbondale, one of the attendees at the meeting. “It’s hard to insert individuality into another collective action.”
Fricke acknowledged there’s a certain point where “you become labeled a political party of some sort.”
Instead of recruiting candidates, some in attendance said it would be best to focus on issues and making sure independent voices are heard on those issues.
“The way our system is set up now, we should go to any meetings of candidates and parties and confront them on areas where they might be willing to compromise,” said Vic Zerbi, another attendee at the meeting. “We’ve heard that a lot here, and that’s one of the things that’s lacking in our system at the present time.”
Fricke noted that 47 percent of voters nationwide are unaffiliated. In Garfield County, more registered voters are unaffiliated, about 12,000, than are aligned with either the Republicans or Democrats. About a third of voters in Colorado are unaffiliated.
The local gathering won the praise of Jackie Salit, president of the national Independent Voting organization in New York City, and John Opdycke, president of Open Primaries, another national organization focused on expanding the open primaries movement to other states.
“This gathering, a next step on what will be a long road to the empowerment of independents, comes at a crucial time,” Salit wrote in a letter to the Garfield County group. “Now that nonaligned voters can vote in party primaries, the parties will be ‘in the hunt’ for our support.”
Added Opdycke in a letter to Fricke: “Independent voters like all of you have been driving the conversation about political reform in Colorado and across the country. What the voters in Colorado did last year to enact open primaries is so important, and it wouldn’t have happened without the leadership and vision of independents all across Colorado.”
Those attending the Thursday meeting agreed to form an organizing committee to propose a formal name for the group, develop a strategy to reach out to unaffiliated voters in Garfield County, develop an issues platform, and identify prospects and groups for outreach. That will include a major effort to contact millennials, a large percentage of whom are not affiliated with political parties, Fricke noted.
The group plans to meet monthly, and will gather again at 6 p.m. April 12 at the Glenwood Library.