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Independent voters ready to exert influence

I don’t want to be called unaffiliated. That’s what Colorado’s secretary of state calls me. Merriam-Webster says it means I am “not associated with another.” It’s not true.

I am an independent. As of July 1, I am associated with 1,715,211 other independent voters in Colorado. We are, by far, greater in numbers than any party. We continue to grow for reasons I will explain below.

I am not a newbie. I registered with a party only once, when turning 21. A precinct captain in Chicago promised a summer job if I registered as a Democrat. I needed the job. It was how things worked in Chicago.

“Not a Republican” or “not a Democrat” cannot define us. We are a phenomenon. Ten years ago, we made up 30% of Colorado’s registered voters. Today, it’s 45%, and it won’t be long before we’re the majority.

Independents are growing because Republicans and Democrats can’t get things done; because they allow extremists to determine policy; and because they have installed incompetent ideologues in offices of public trust.

Demographics have influence. Those under 35 are more likely to register as an independent. They don’t see political parties like their grandparents. In a recent national poll of Americans 18 to 29 years old, only 7% believed the United States was a “healthy democracy.”

Election reform makes a difference. Since 2018, Colorado independents can vote in the primary of our choice. And since 2020, when citizens obtain driver’s licenses, renew or change addresses, they are automatically registered to vote, unless they ask to opt out. As a result, taking part in elections is easier.

True, as a group, we are not alike. Many are former Republicans and Democrats, disgusted by their party’s plunge into extremism. Others are true moderates who will have more influence as an independent than by continuing to play their former party’s “lesser of two evils” game. Some are apolitical. They feel a responsibility to vote but have no allegiance to a party. And there are some, unbelievably, who feel the major parties are not extreme enough.

But there are also huge differences within the Democratic Party and also within the Republican Party. Having different ideas does not disqualify us from being a group.

While we do not think alike, many of us share a common goal. When almost half of Colorado’s electorate is not represented by a political party, it is time we exert influence proportionate with our numbers. It is time independents have more say about how elections are run. Republicans and Democrats no longer deserve the right to completely dominate the political process.

What can we do?

We can make election administration nonpartisan. Why should campaign finance and election oversight be left to a politician whose party has a stake in the outcome? We cannot afford another Tina Peters, the indicted Mesa County Clerk. It is an unfortunate truth, but Peters is not a one-off. Today, there are more like her, trying to gain control over our elections. And if the plans Republicans are making actually occur, 2024 election results can be overturned if they don’t like the outcome.

Only extremists deny that our future and our strength depend on cooperation. The Democratic and Republican parties are incapable. It will be up to all of us to use some independent thinking to turn things around in Western Colorado.

Steve Mandell of Montrose is a former consumer research director for a Fortune 500 company. He is also a member of restorethebalance.org, a nonprofit educating Western Coloradoans on the danger posed by political extremism. The opinion here is his own and does not represent Restore the Balance.