Every region in America boasts of their own accolades. New England has covered bridges and maple syrup, Colorado has the Rockies, and the South has barbecue. But what region deserves the praises of independent voters?
In this case, the West Coast is the “Best” Coast for independents, as the expression simply states. When it comes to the variety of non partisan electoral reforms, sheer numbers of candidates and campaigns, and existence of groups advocating for the interest of independents, the states in the Pacific time zone have recently gone above and beyond the rest of the country. From Seattle down to San Diego, and even in neighboring states like Arizona, the independent movement is alive and well, and spreading.
Electoral reform and ballot access are two huge hurdles for independent candidates around the country to overcome, and Washington was the second state in the union (after Louisiana) to implement an “open primary” system in 2008, where candidates of all parties are on the same primary ballot and the top two vote getters advance to the general election. This non partisan electoral reform is crucial for independent voters – not only providing an “equal” playing field for independent candidates in contested primary elections, but also compelling campaigns to “run to the middle” and appeal to a wider spectrum of voters than in traditional partisan primaries. The reform has compounded an already strong independent streak among Washington’s voters, and as of June, 39% identify as Independent, compared with 34% as Democrats and 28% as Republicans. There are many notable independent and third party candidates on the ballot in Washington’s August 7th primary, and it remains to be seen how they’ll fare.
Down the coast, the state of California has also instituted non partisan electoral reform, with the first run of statewide open primaries taking place earlier in June. Despite critics who argued the top two system actually made it “harder” for third party to win, several candidates mounted credible challenges to Democrats and Republicans, and four independent congressional candidates will be on the runoff ballot in November. Last month, the LA Times reported that over one fifth, or 21.3% of California voters now declare “no party preference,” and that as a result the California GOP is “sinking into third party status.”
In 2012, the City of San Diego has been at the forefront of California’s independent movement – Nathan Fletcher ran a high profile independent campaign for mayor after a much publicized defection from the Republican party. Independent advocate Steve Peace founded the Independent Voter Network, both as a news platform with a group of talented writers to provide opinion outside of the mainstream media narrative, and as a platform to organize unaffiliated voters statewide. The first “independent super PAC,” iCpurple emerged this spring out of the broader San Diego community, and supported Fletcher as well as other notable independent candidates. Additionally, a group of moderate San Diego business executives who formed “Movement to the Middle” in support of Fletcher are looking to stay active in the political community beyond 2012 to support pragmatic, solutions based politics.
The enthusiasm of independent movement exemplified by the West Coast is slowly spreading East - Arizona will vote for open primaries in a proposition this November – a group advocating for electoral reform just submitted over 350,000 signatures to qualify for the 2012 ballot. Gary Johnson, the most recognizable and publicized third party candidate for President, has polled as high as 7-12% throughout the Mountain West, and could be a thorn in the side of Mitt Romney if his Libertarian support continues to build in his home state of New Mexico and the surrounding region.
Top two primaries. Independent interest groups advocating for reform. Surging numbers of registered “unaffiliated” voters. Credible independent candidates for office. To find them all, as author Horace Greeley famously quipped, “Go west, young man.”