Reader’s Forum — Steve Hough

Steve Hough receiving an Anti-Corruption Award from Stephanie Harris, 2017

“The recognition of the rights of unaffiliated voters is a new frontier in the civil rights/voting rights struggle.”

I agree.

Voters in my home state of Florida just approved a constitutional amendment to automatically restore the voting rights of most felons once completing their sentences. Although the state legislature has passed a bill redefining the “completion” of a sentence, the amendment potentially restores the franchise to 1.5 million citizens. In our state, 3.6 million voters are registered without a party affiliation and are therefore barred from voting in the most important elections- the primaries.

“The direct primary was one of several measures instituted by the Progressive movement in the early twentieth century to destroy what they viewed as “the corrupt alliance” between wealthy special interests and the political machine.”

There is no argument that the implementation of a primary system for selecting party nominees was a reform in its time but due to a shift in demographics, including the trend of voters registering without party affiliation, new reforms are required for the very reason primaries were originally devised. While some of the blame can be placed on voluntary low participation rates, excluding millions of independents leaves “representatives” accountable only to the tiniest portion of the population.

Those voting in primaries tend to be the most active, and the most partisan. In many cases their votes are dependent on hardline positions on social issues. In order for lawmakers to avoid being “primaried”, they must adhere to these hardline positions. While that can lead to inflexibility on particular issues, it also frees legislators to pretty much do as they please in other areas as long as their base of primary voters is appeased. When that is the case, the same “corrupt alliances” thrive.

“Illustrative of this point is the 2016 presidential primary, wherein 14% of eligible voters—9% of the whole nation— voted for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as the nominees, but half of the primary voters chose other candidates.”

While Donald Trump prevailed in the presidential race, there were multiple obstacles which helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination- one of which was the inability of many independent Sanders supporters to cast a vote in a primary. Donald Trump now operates in our highest government position as if he only need be accountable to the primary voters responsible for his nomination.

“What is significant about the reapportionment cases is that they rested on the proposition that each and every voter was entitled to equal treatment. A voter’s status was independent of race, gender or sexual preference. The Court did not say if you want your vote to count more, then move to farm country. Voter equality was recognized as an undeniable right of citizenship. If that is the case, then the choice to remain free of party affiliation cannot deprive a voter of full participation in every phase of the electoral process. The state can no more condition a voter’s right to vote in the primary phase of the electoral process on party affiliation than it could condition it on race, gender or sexual preference. The only status that matters is citizenship. And all citizens must be treated equally and as fully enfranchised.”

I enjoyed the read, and I thank the authors for their time and dedication. The article presented a good history of voting in our country and the struggles to extend the right to all citizens. I also enjoyed learning of numerous related court cases that have shaped our present-day electoral system. As a result, I am more cognizant of the role played by the judicial branch in settling disputes, and I have a greater appreciation of the need for the judiciary to assess independent voting rights in the context of the new political demographics where the rights of citizenship, and a duty to insure equal treatment, is the primary concern of the court.

Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.


Politics for the People

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Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States

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Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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