(CN) - There are more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for President of the United States setting up a run against Republican Donald Trump in 2020.
As stragglers continue to throw their hat in the ring, the historically large field is solidifying.
While media attention will continue to hone in on the candidates, their pronouncements, the polls, the campaign tours with the photo-ops and gaffes — a group of activists are attempting to shift awareness to a specific aspect of the electoral process itself that they say is equally if not more determinative in who occupies the presidency and the rest of the highest offices in the land.
Despite ample attention paid to the viability of the electoral college, or the disenfranchisement of minority voters — and the individuals interviewed for this story are quick to say both are issues worthy of attention — these activists are more concerned about a voter rights issue of an even greater scale that present a greater range of implications for how and by whom citizens are governed.
“Traditional closed primaries are the largest active voter disenfranchisement currently happening in this country by several orders of magnitude,” said Jeremy Gruber, senior vice president of Open Primaries, a non-profit dedicated to open and nonpartisan primary systems.
The issue is so important to activists because of two trends in the American electorate.
One is that in states where one party dominates — like California or Mississippi — primary elections are actually more important than general elections in determining the type of representation for a given constituency. The second trend is the rise of the independent voter as more and more citizens decline to register with the Democratic or the Republican Party.
“Given how critical primary elections are in selecting the ultimate winner, we believe they ought to be open to every voter at every stage,” said Jim Jonas, executive director of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers.
Jonas’ work has been mostly based in Colorado, where he and a collection of activists succeeded in pressuring the state to open their primaries in 2016.
Jonas viewed the shift as paramount due to the increasing numbers of independent voters being shut out of primary elections even as those elections increase in importance.
Other activists agree.
“In 2016, there were 26 million people who were registered as independent voters,” Gruber said. “We’re witnessing a historic shift in the partisan composition of this country.”
The trend toward independence and away from political parties only figures to intensify, as more than 50 percent of millennial voters decline to affiliate with either party. Polls across the country indicate an electorate that is disgusted with hyper partisan politics.
Nevertheless, in states with closed primaries — and there are at least 13 — those voters are excluded from a critical part of the process.
For instance, in New Jersey, which has broken Democratic for seven consecutive elections, it is safe to say the race between Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke and others to become the Democratic nominee for president will be a lot more competitive than the race between any of those nominees and Donald Trump.
But because New Jersey, which is about 50 percent independent, has traditionally closed primaries, almost half of its electorate will be prevented from weighing in on that decision.
“Half of the voting population, all of whom are taxpayers who help fund the primary election, are precluded from voting at the first and important stage of the election process,” said Chad Peace, a legal strategist for the Independent Voter Project. “And they are excluded from this important stage by virtue of exercising the right to not join an organization they don’t agree with.”