Too many of us still think in either-or political terms. What are you? Democrat or Republican? Lefty or righty? Donkey or elephant?
And yet, that's not even close to reality. Even within the two largest establishment parties, there are gaping and often angry divisions. And there are the smaller parties, like the Libertarians and Greens, also gaining adherents.
Here in North Carolina, the fastest-growing political affiliation of all is none of the above. It's voters registering as unaffiliated — those who want to participate in our democracy but want no part of anyone's party. They are a diverse group, those unenrolled folks. Some have abandoned the mainstream parties as they became disenchanted with their evolution. Others have never, ever wanted to adopt any party's beliefs or candidates.
Unaffiliated voters in North Carolina outnumber Republicans and are gaining on the Democrats rapidly, In the last nine years, nearly 1 million new voters have registered here and nearly 80 percent of them chose to be unaffiliated. For many of them, it's a straightforward declaration: A pox on both their houses.
But that message hasn't yet been recognized by the men and women who write this state's laws. In the General Assembly, the great struggle, the war for hearts and minds, is still being waged between Democrats and Republicans, who act blissfully unaware that time and trends are passing them by. That was most evident in the electoral reform measure Republicans pushed through this year. The law — adopted in April and promptly challenged in court by Gov. Roy Cooper — changes the State Board of Elections from a body led by a majority from the governor's political party to a body of equal representation by Democrats and Republicans. It seems deliberately designed to fight to a draw on any contentious issues, and thus accomplish nothing.
And it also keeps alive the naive belief that all politics is about Democrats and Republicans — and any others need not apply.
This raised Michael Crowell's dander a bit. Crowell, a soft-spoken, professorial (he's a former faculty member of the UNC School of Government) lawyer from Carrboro, is one of this state's experts in elections law. He's very good at what he does.
He's also registered as an unaffiliated voter, which disqualifies him from serving on the State Board of Elections, despite his expertise — not that he necessarily wants to. But he does want service on the state and local boards of elections to be open to unaffiliated voters, so he filed a lawsuit last week in federal court, challenging the new elections law. Crowell points out in the suit that since the State Board of Elections was formed in 1901, it's never had a member who wasn't either a Democrat or a Republican. And there are no unaffiliated voters on any of the state's 100 county boards of elections, his suit says.
Unaffiliated voters already outnumber either Democrats or Republicans in eight North Carolina counties and they outnumber Republicans in nearly half. If they want to serve on local boards of elections, or the state board, they should be allowed. We hope the federal courts agree. It's time for North Carolina's elections apparatus to look like the voters it serves.
REPRINTED FROM THE JACKSONVILLE DAILY NEWS