Independents critical to elections; fighting for inclusion

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By Carol A. Clark

There are more than 50 third party groups registered in the United States. Independents number in the millions.

Their percentage has grown substantially in recent years and in some states, such as New Jersey, the actual registration of non-partisans now exceeds Democrats or Republicans, according to Colliers website.

More major party members are moving to independent status. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman switched from Democrat to independent in 2006 and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg changed his party affiliation from Republican to independent last year.

Local resident Michael Wismer switched from Republican to Independent in 2005 while serving on council. He is the sole independent candidate running for local office in this election cycle.

“Independent voters, those not bound by or committed to a political party represent an emerging development in current voting trends,” Wismer said. “In fact, this is an exciting time and a challenging time for Independent voters and for the Independent movement.”

Independents now measure 40 percent of the electorate, he said, with polls showing 41 percent of college students consider themselves indies as do 35 percent of African Americans under the age of 30.

“A review of the 18 to 29-year-old voter demographics of the past two presidential elections indicates shows roughly 28 percent of the registered voters in those age groups were independents,” Wismer said. “The quiet storm that’s brewing is that voters want to think and decide for themselves based on their evaluation of the candidates and their positions. The fact that both major parties are courting these independents in a close presidential election is clear evidence of a major shift in voter preferences.”

In an interview Monday, New Mexico’s Third Congressional District independent candidate Carol Miller explained the difficulty in getting included in upcoming debates.

Miller is the only candidate with experience working in Washington. She is running against Democrat Ben Ray Lujan and Republican Dan East.

“They’re telling me I can’t be included in the debates because as an independent I didn't have to go through a Primary,” she said. “But I had to get 11,000 signatures and that was more difficult.”

There are currently 55,000 registered independents in CD-3, Miller said, and 200,000 in New Mexico as of a couple of months ago. She is familiar with third party affiliations as she has been affiliated with several.

“What I’ve found is we’re never going to change our political system until we get to where people look at candidates for what they stand for and not at their party affiliation,” she said. “I’ve been campaigning across the district and being told every day that neither party is paying attention to working people and what they need. I’m an independent because I want to work for and represent everyone – I don’t want a party label telling me what to do.”

George Washington was the first and only elected independent president, as he was not formally affiliated with any party during his two terms.