Are political parties obsolete?
It's not like the old days, when bosses and smoke-filled rooms picked the candidates and told people how to vote. These days, it's the PACs and the big contributors that really matter. On the national level, politics has been dominated by such characters as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who decided they were nominal Republicans or Democrats, more or less at the last minute.
In North Carolina, unaffiliated voters — those who belong to neither party — already outnumber Republicans and could soon outnumber Democrats. (There are roughly 2.4 million registered Democrats in the state, 1.9 million Republicans and 2.1 million unaffiliated.)
Numbers of the unaffiliated have doubled since 2005. The option appeals to many because they can choose which primary they can vote in. They can vote in the most interesting races. In those remaining counties where winning the primary amounts to winning the election, they can still make their voices heard.
All of this would be just gee-whiz civics stuff, except for one troubling detail. Unaffiliated voters cannot serve on North Carolina elections boards.
By law, members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and county boards must either be Democrats or Republicans. No seats are reserved for unaffiliated voters.
Critics point out that this enshrines the monopoly of the two big historic parties. Insurgent parties such as the Libertarians, the Greens or the Constitution Party have been complaining about this for years, how hard it is for them to get on the ballot. (The rules have been loosened, but third parties basically have to turn in petitions with close to 12,000 signatures to qualify for a ballot spot.) Candidates without party affiliation cannot get on the ballot at all.
Now, a University of North Carolina law professor has filed a useful lawsuit in federal court. He's registered as unaffiliated, and he's arguing that his constitutional rights are violated since he's banned from serving on an elections board.
He's got a point; a very good point, in fact. It's time to change the law.
Currently, most Tar Heel elections boards are made up of three Democrats and two Republicans. Whichever party wins the last governor's race gets the advantage. When Gov. Pat McCrory was in office, the margin was three Democrats, two Republicans. (The legislature tried to change this in the last election, but it was a pretty brazen power grab, and voters wisely put the kibosh on that.)
What if the election boards had two Democrats, two Republicans and one unaffiliated member? That would put the balance of power in the hands of the unaffiliated guy (or lady), removing most whiffs of partisan bias from board decisions. Folks might generally be more contented with the outcome.
The two big parties will retain a lock on power as long as elections are decided by who gets the most votes rather than who gets a majority. Third parties mainly function as spoilers rather than as serious contenders. Still, when polls show that more than half of voters believe a viable third choice would improve our politics, shaking things up a bit can only help. Breaking the monopoly on the elections boards is one good way to start.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL