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Independent voters have a voice, too

As a rule, one should never panic when it comes to local, regional or even national politics; life is too short. But in the case of the 2016 presidential election, the rule seems not to apply. Indeed, there is much — narcissism, demagoguery, significant unlikability, the end of our democracy as we know it — to panic about. This election cycle has become inexplicable and unimaginable in equal parts.

Still, rather than go on about the many unattractive qualities of this year's two presumptive nominees (there will be plenty of time for that in the months to come), let us pause to consider voter rights. And equal representation. And this, too: there are 675,436 independent voters in the state of Maryland who did not cast a vote during the April 2016 presidential primary election. Why? Because the state of Maryland, along with 27 other states, maintains closed primary elections. That is, only those voters who are registered as either Democrat or Republican are permitted to vote for their Democratic or Republican candidate, respectively. And although you could theoretically register and vote as a Libertarian or with the Green party, why bother? It would be a castle in the sky to pull the lever for either of these ham-fisted parties. Meanwhile, those registered as independents (otherwise known as unaffiliated) — Maryland residents and U.S. citizens all — sadly cannot cast our vote.

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Although independents represent a whopping 17.7 percent of Maryland's 3.8 million total registered voters — essentially 1 in 5 — we are repeatedly, election after election, year after year, denied participation in the state's presidential primary election process. Independent voters across the state are, for all practical purposes, being robbed of our voting rights by highly partisan state party bosses for our refusal to pledge our allegiance to a specific party and its attendant get-nothing-done, raucous, partisan agenda. This is wrong.

Among the many traits voters in general tend to share these days are high rates of dissatisfaction with both the federal and state governments, which have become governments for and by the politicians, not the people. Unmoored from the cares and concerns of the growing middle class, who perform much of the heavy lifting of this great nation, these politicians remain obsequious to special interests and their precious campaign contributions. Years of over promising and under delivering have left them underwater with We The People. Nowhere is this more evident than with independent voters who, time and again, feel disenfranchised and abandoned by the Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as the ugly cage-match that our "democratic process" has become.

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Blocking independent voters from participating in the presidential primary is two things at once: amoral and perilous to our democracy. And I'm convinced that the day will come, sooner rather then later, when we will view this oppressive regulation to be analogous with the gender and race-voting exclusions outlawed nearly a century ago — absurd, prejudicial and discriminatory. The only way this law would seem just and reasonable is through the distorted and partisan eyes of politicians on both sides who have become more concerned about affecting election outcomes than they are about respecting the genuine will of the people.

So things, as things will, are falling apart. The willful and arbitrary exercise of power by party bosses at the state and federal level has created this situation, and they need look no further than this election cycle to see that We The People are flocking in droves to alternative solutions (read: "candidates"). Town after town, county after county and state after state feature aggrieved voters, many of whom are abandoning traditional politics. Change is-a-coming, and the fate of politicians far and wide will most certainly be negatively influenced if they fail to heed the will of their constituencies.

Unaffiliated? Yes! Undecided? Perhaps. Unengaged? Definitely not. We independent voters must demand more, demand better, and demand that our voices be heard. It's time Maryland legislators and others change the state laws that pickpocket an increasingly large number of voters of their voting rights.

David Bittle is an independent voter who lives in Middletown; his email is dabittle@gmail.com.

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