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The power of the independent voter

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Posted at 8:36 AM, Apr 29, 2022

Independent voters will have a lot of power during the midterm election. They outnumber Republicans and Democrats.

"Even though a Republican can say and promise A, B, C, a Democrat can promise D, E, and F, but I might like A and a little bit of E so it’s not just red and blue anymore," said Esmeralda Villeda, one of the millions of independent voters in the U.S.

Villeda is like many Americans who are frustrated with politics.

“I don’t watch the news because, at this point, all it is, is 'this candidate said this, this candidate that, let me find something else to talk bad about this person,'" she said. "That's not what politics is about."

Villeda, a Las Vegas native and first-generation Mexican-American, was the first in her family to graduate from high school.

She used to be politically active, even helping national and local political campaigns

“It’s a little heartbreaking," Villeda said, "because right out of high school, I was full-on Democrat and voting Democrat all the way.”

After the 2020 election, Villeda said she was fed up with party politics.

“It got very messy. It got very, 'You’re with me or against me,'" Villeda said

According to Gallup, as of March, 40% of voters say they are independent, more than the 28% who say they are Republican and 30% say they are Democrat.

In 2004, 27% of voters identified as independent, while Republicans made up 38% of voters and Democrats made up 35%.

“I think that’s one of the things you see nationally is this sort of swinging from Democrat to Republican control, you’re seeing voters say no to both parties not saying yes to either one here," said University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) political science professor David Damore.

Damore has taught politics at UNLV for 22 years. Non-partisan and minor party voters, like Libertarians, now make up the largest group of voters in Nevada, which has one of the fastest-growing populations in the country.

Damore said Nevada has seen a non-partisan voter boost because of the state's automatic voter registration. New residents are registered to vote when they get a driver's license and non-partisan is the default option.

Damore contends non-partisan voters have a lot of power.

“You look back in '16, Trump carried them narrowly here, they shifted to Biden two years ago, so it’s a real uncertainty here," Damore said.

This November, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, could be voted out. Independents could be the group tips the scales in favor of a Republican challenger.

“A lot of them are new to the state, so the question is how much are they going to spend learning about these candidates or are they just going to go with the national flow," Damore contemplated.

Independents might have even more power if people like Jeremy Gruber get their way.

His nonpartisan, nonprofit group, Open Primaries Education Fund, is pushing for all states to open their primary elections to independent voters.

This year, 12 states are not allowing independents to vote in primaries. They will only be allowed to participate in general elections.

“They’re taxpayer-funded. We pay millions of dollars every year to fund primaries," Gruber said. "They are for all intents and purposes public elections, but we let the parties decide which members of the public can participate."

This fall, Villeda will vote in her first election as a non-partisan and she is OK with it. She will be voting for the person, not the party.

"This what America is," she said. "We have a right to our own voice."