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The Podium

The two-party lock on politics

Massachusetts is home to some of the most forward-leaning businesses in the world. We have some of the world’s finest universities and hospitals, championship sports teams, leading health and tech innovation — and a gorgeous change of seasons, to boot.

What we don’t have is a functioning, multi-party democracy.

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Indeed, Massachusetts voters are leaving the only officially recognized parties, Republicans and Democrats, in record numbers. As of 2012, over 52 percent of Massachusetts voters chose to be “Unenrolled,” representing more than 2 million voters who choose to be independent of either party.

Yet Democrats and Republicans alone hold the reins of power in our longtime two-party system. The result: independent views in our state — many of which differ from the two parties’ platforms — are simply not part of the conversation. As a result, in many respects, voters lose out in terms of broader options and new ideas.

Many people, myself included, believe the stagnation of this two-party structure breeds a sense of complacency and entitlement in our state’s politics. The two-party system has failed to deliver what voters want — robust, open dialogue about bold new possibilities, innovative ideas, and especially strategic plans that look much further to our future than just the next election.

Having only Republican or Democratic options from which to choose is a huge part of what so limits our possibilities today. The two-party lock on politics means these parties have complete authority to decide which people can be heard and can be a part of our state’s political system and decision making, and which cannot.

In January, a group of Massachusetts voters and I launched the United Independent movement, focused on socially progressive ideas and fiscally sensible solutions. We are working hard to become an official, viable third-party option for voters, and I have announced my candidacy for Massachusetts governor.

Our focus and messaging is resonating. Yet we face almost comically skewed fundraising laws created by Democratic and Republican lawmakers. For example, the two parties’ candidates can raise up to $15,000 from each person at fundraisers for themselves and their party organizations, through a maze of federal and state accounts while Independent candidates are only allowed to raise $1,000. And this doesn’t count the unlimited “in-kind” contributions Republican and Democratic candidates enjoy — but which independent candidates are completely barred from accepting. These in-kind contributions can fund everything from expensive mass mailings and advertising buys to party email lists, phone banks and office equipment. This different set of rules for any Independent candidates effectively serves to block any Independent candidates from running for office.

As another example, by existing state law created by Democrats and Republicans, a new political movement working to become an official party must have voters gather and submit tens of thousands of complicated “Massachusetts Official Voter Registration Forms” to one of 351 Town Clerk, Town Hall, Board of Election, Board of Registrars or Election Commission offices — leaving all sorts of room for unintentional voter error when filling out or submitting these forms. There’s even legislation pending in the Massachusetts House of Representatives right now to further tighten the qualification requirements on forming any new political movements.

In a world where the two parties rarely see eye to eye, keeping any new competition out of their system is absolutely one area where they seem to keenly agree.

In our efforts to introduce more independent thinking and voices, I believe we will meet and overcome these significant hurdles — but they represent something much deeper than just a problem of basic unfairness. If we shut out the majority of voters — independents — how can we have a reasonable, rational, inclusive dialogue about the challenges we face in Massachusetts?

And what does it mean for potential ideas and common-sense solutions that are squelched before they can even be formally proposed? What does it mean for families in our state who would benefit from new proposals and common-sense approaches?

It is odd that in 2013, in a state viewed as being among the most — if not the most — progressive in the nation, people still must struggle to even be included and heard.

A hallmark of democracy is thoughtful, open discussion among the many — not decision making reserved for the privileged few. Nowhere is it written that democracy means politics for only two parties.

The exciting potential is that Massachusetts has a tremendous opportunity not only to broaden our discussion and number of potential solutions, but in so doing serve as a national leader among other states in bravely expanding and redefining politics. By opening the door to finally include more independent candidates and voters with new thinking and fresh ideas, we embrace the truest ideals of democracy – and increase our chances of crafting real solutions in the process.

Evan Falchuk is founder of the United Independent movement in Massachusetts.
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