The 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 are opting not to affiliate with a political party.
Fully 50 percent of voters aged 18-29 now identify as independents, and the percentage of the electorate under 30 is growing. In 2006, 18-29 year olds accounted for 21 percent of the electorate. By 2015, estimates are that 18-29 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 dominates. 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.
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.
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 incentive 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 at Ann Arbor and current Chief of Staff for IndependentVoting.org, a national association of independent voters with organizations in 40 states.