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How One Group Is Galvanizing Dissatisfied Voters

Oct 21, 2018
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Voters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with both major political parties. Nearly 70 percent of Americans say that the two parties fail to adequately represent the American people, according to a recent nonpartisan survey. A Colorado-based group called Unite America is trying to use that dissatisfaction to elect more independent candidates to office nationwide. From Colorado Public Radio, Bente Birkeland reports.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Unite America wants to galvanize voters like Anthony Cross. He's a Democrat but says he'd absolutely back an unaffiliated candidate if he agreed with their policy positions.

ANTHONY CROSS: If anything, the last presidential election has kind of proven that both parties, in many ways, are flawed. The leadership in those parties are flawed.

BIRKELAND: Still, Cross thinks the chance that he would ultimately vote for someone who is unaffiliated is pretty slim.

CROSS: Because there's a high likelihood that I might not even know that that person exists. And that's the thing - is that if you don't know they exist, how can you vote for them? And how are you getting that message out?

BIRKELAND: That's where Unite America is trying to fill a void. They've helped a handful of Colorado state House candidates qualify for the ballot, campaign and get their names out with promotional videos. They're endorsing 24 unaffiliated candidates running for all levels of office from across the country.

(CROSSTALK)

BIRKELAND: The group recently held a national summit for its candidates in Denver. Paul Jones is running against an incumbent Democrat in a competitive Colorado state House district. He believes his independent mindset will resonate with voters who are frustrated and looking for change.

PAUL JONES: Everybody wants to put you in a box. They want you to stand in a box so they can clearly define what you are. But that's the problem that we face - is that we're trying to solve complicated issues with very black-and-white solutions.

BIRKELAND: In states like Colorado, unaffiliated voters now outnumber both Republicans and Democrats. But many of those unaffiliated voters actually consistently vote with one party or the other. It's been more than a hundred years since Colorado elected an unaffiliated candidate to the legislature. Nick Troiano is the executive director of Unite America. He believes a purple state like Colorado, with a narrowly divided legislature, is the perfect place to launch this movement.

NICK TROIANO: So just two or three or four independents could have a transformative impact if no party had an outright majority. They can't just ram their agenda through. They would need to reach across the aisle for some votes.

BIRKELAND: But if that's the goal, Unite America isn't fielding candidates in the right races to flip control of either of Colorado's chambers. Regardless of whether or not their candidates win any races in Colorado or across the country, Dick Wadhams, the former head of the state Republican Party, says they could be spoilers. He thinks their message is especially attractive to younger voters, who tend to be more liberal but don't necessarily identify with the party.

DICK WADHAMS: If some Democratic candidates end up losing in some competitive seats, they might be responsible for some Democrats losing.

BIRKELAND: One question about the group is how much its donors are spending. A top Democratic election attorney has filed a campaign finance complaint against Unite America. If successful, it could force the group to reveal more about its donors and spending. For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.