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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

VIEWPOINT: Party’s over for young voters

The U.S. Census Bureau is making a concerted effort to fully include young people — witness Commerce Secretary Gary Locke’s recent appearance on “The Daily Show.” Census takers will be knocking on dorm rooms and checking to see who is crashing on the couch, but regardless of how thorough they are, they will miss out on one dramatic population migration: young Americans opting not to affiliate with a political party.

Fully 50 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 now identify as independents, and the percentage of the electorate under 30 is growing.

In 2006, 18- to 29-year-olds accounted for 21 percent of the electorate. By 2015, estimates are that 18- to 29-year-olds will account for 33 percent of all voters.

But the millennial generation finds itself confronted by an electoral system designed by — and for — the “I Like Ike” crowd. Party politics dominate.

Election districts are gerrymandered to serve party interests. Many states require poll workers to be registered Democratic or Republican.

The Federal Election Commission is comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans, rendering it both structurally impotent and blind to the concerns of independents.

And most significantly, primary elections are off limits to independents in 17 states.

The official attitude among political elites toward the independence of younger voters ranges from amusement to outright hostility.

Gail Collins of The New York Times recently opined on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “the only kind of people voting in primaries tend to be the lunatic ends of the party because everyone else thinks it’s so much suaver and cooler to say they are independent.”

Collins’ message to new voters — delivered with typical sarcasm — is to join a party and get with the program.

Her view is shared by many political insiders who see independents as “fence sitters” who cannot be bothered to get involved.

But millennials’ are not apathetic; they voted in record numbers in 2008. They vote, they volunteer, but they don’t want to join a party.

And their stubborn independence has fueled a national controversy on the issue of open vs. closed primaries.

Republican hardliners in Rhode Island, Idaho and Arizona are pushing to close their state’s primaries.

The Idaho GOP has gone so far as to file suit to force Idaho to require voters to select a party when they register to vote.

Elsewhere, post-partisan elected candiadates like New York City’s independent Mayor Mike Bloomberg have empanelled a Charter Revision Commission to review the city’s governing charter.

The commission is being lobbied by independents to recommend a switch to a non-partisan primary system for local elections.

In California — where independent registration has grown from 9 percent in 1990 to 20 percent today — voters have the chance on June 8 to enact Proposition 14 and create an open, “top-two” voting system in which all the voters and all the candidates, regardless of party affiliation, participate in first round elections, with the top two candidates going on to the November ballot.

This non-partisan approach to state elections is being opposed by every political party, major and minor, in California.

Our constitution does not mention political parties. But they have dominated political life since 1800.

A new generation, comfortable with new forms of participation and communication, at ease with new technologies and turned off by partisan dysfunction in Washington, is looking for new, more independent ways to participate in political and civic life.

By 2015, this generation of voters could account for a full third of the electorate, but there is a real danger that if given the choice of participating in old style party politics, or not participating at all, the millennial generation will choose the latter.

America has thrived because we recognize the importance of the new. We cherish the rule breakers, the out-of-the-boxers, the innovators.

We all know that Washington is broken; let’s fix it with more than a new coat of paint. The time has come for structural reforms that will empower a new generation of voters and incentivize them to participate.

Young people are telling us they don’t want a party. We need to listen to them.

John Opdycke is a graduate of University of Michigan and current chief of staff for, a national association of independent voters with organizations in 40 states.

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