I pride myself on having a solid voting record, and I've blogged several times over the years about the ridiculous notion that journalists (who are also citizens, last time I checked) should abstain from casting ballots to maintain some unattainable, Nirvana-like state of "impartiality."
But today, I didn't vote.
Why? Was it because in the Pennsylvania governor's race, a millionaire (a millionaire with good progressive ideas, for what it's worth) bought up all the TV time over the winter and essentially ended the contest before it started? Was it to protest Allyson Schwartz' misguided votes on food stamps and the NSA, or Rob McCord's off-kilter attack ads? Was it because the only candidate to rise up and challenge Gov. Corbett on the primary ballot was thrown off the ballot on the flimsiest of pretenses? Was because in my ridiculously gerrymandered Rorschach test of a congressional district, the Democratic "brain trust" couldn't come up with a credible candidate to oust the Tea Party-enabling incumbent?
No. While all of those things are true, all of those things would be lame reasons not to go to the polls.
There was only one reason I didn't vote.
I'm a registered independent, and in Pennsylvania independents can't vote in party primaries, nor can voters cross over to an opposing party.
It doesn't have to be this way. Some 20 states have some version of an "open primary," which allow independents to participate. The reason that political parties are able to maintain "closed primaries' in the majority of states is that they've argued successfully that their "freedom of association" allows them to bar outsiders.
But their argument would be a lot stronger if America had a stronger democracy. In the vast majority of elections, there are only two parties that matter, and many times the primary is where the real decision is made. With Corbett's poll numbers so low that even Dick Cheney feels sorry for him, there's a really good chance that the future of Pennsylvania was decided tonight...with hundreds of thousands of voters shut out.
But here's where it gets even worse: In our polarized nation, there are too many places where just ONE party matters, period. Like here's a place you may have heard of...Philadelphia. Except for District 13...er, I mean the Far Northeast, Philly elections are decided solely by Democrats, leaving independents and Republicans on the outside looking in.
I have a right to freely associate, too -- and I'm a voter and involved citizen who has absolutely zero interest in associating with either the Democrats or the Republicans. My rights, therefore, are threatened by the closed primary.
Pennsylvania could join the roster of open primary states, but in a commonwealth with arguably the weakest campaign finance and ethics laws in the nation, what are the odds? So I guess I'll just save a copy of this blog post...I'll probably be running it again next May.