Posted by Samantha Serrano on June 15, 2015 at 9:53 AM
Learn with the Intern: How our political system became so "broken"
As a first time intern, working with Open Primaries has been quite the eye opening experience. Despite the fact that I attend one of the most politically active universities in the country (GWU) and have taken multiple government and politics classes, never have I put serious thought into America’s problems regarding election reform until now.
I cannot count how many times I have heard individuals say the phrase, “The government is broken and America needs change.” This phrase is common at school, at home, and even on the five o’clock news. With so much frustration building in American citizens, I was curious to know what the root of political issues is and just how our system became so “broken”.
Through working with Open Primaries, I am able to say confidently that the problem begins with partisan-ism and unfair elections. One of the first things I learned once I joined this organization is that 40% of voters do not want to be affiliated with either major political party. This means that about every 4 in 10 Americans identify themselves as Independent. What does this have to do with unsatisfied constituents? Here’s where the problem becomes complex.
The United States Constitution does not have a specific article or section about political parties or how such parties may choose who votes in primary elections. Article XV mentions how voting cannot be abridged due to race and XIX says the same for gender, but there is no mention of voting rights being inapplicable due to party affiliation. In fact, George Washington himself warned against the dangers of party factions, and it wasn’t until the Progressive Era that fully formed parties began to pop up to deter party bosses from garnering too much power.
You’re probably thinking, “How can this be? I know I have the right to vote. I am an American,” and you do, but perhaps not exactly just how you think. If you are a citizen that lives in a state with a closed primary system, and you are not registered as either a Republican or a Democrat, then think again. Even in states with a mixed system, at best, elements of both open and closed primaries are incorporated. In most mixed primary states, the power to choose who can vote in primaries still falls to the political parties. Some states permit independents to vote without altering their unaffiliated status, however, others require a day-of declaration of party affiliation. Without proper representation in primary elections, Independent voters’ voices can be drowned out by the partisan machine.
So how do we solve this problem? That’s where Open Primaries gets involved. Open Primaries is creating a movement of diverse Americans who believe in a simple, yet radical idea: no American should be required to join a political party to exercise his or her right to vote. Under a nonpartisan, Top Two system, I learned that any registered voter may participate in the primaries, regardless or political affiliation, and the top two vote earners will compete in a runoff. Ideally, all states would benefit from this type of political reform.
I hope that throughout my summer internship I can observe first hand just how important and powerful this issue is. Election reform can be the first step to fixing our flawed governing system and moving toward the election system our Founding Fathers intended.