Thursday, March 25, 2004
Our Democracy is in crisis. Voter turnout is among the lowest in the western world. Voters are being offered a stagnant, corporatized two party system which turns off tens of millions of stay-at-home eligible voters.
The two-party duopoly has created an array of laws, institutions and attitudes against broadening the electoral system - preventing voters from having more voices and more choices. In no western democracy are there so many legal barriers to getting on the ballot for independent and third-party candidates.
In doing the research for the first article I co-authored in 1958 on various state ballot access barriers, I was astonished that each state had its own rules for federal candidates, varying widely from modest to the draconian. Why, I wondered, is there not one federal standard for federal elections? It seems the duopoly is doing its best to exclude competition. Here are some examples:
To qualify for the ballot in Texas, an independent candidate needs 64,077 valid signatures from registered voters who did not vote in either the Republican or Democratic Party primary. Because signatures are often arbitrarily disqualified we need to collect 90,000 signatures. And, all the signatures must be collected between March 10 and May 10. And, the signature gatherers must have their forms notarized.
To get on the presidential ballot in North Carolina, an independent candidate must collect 99,439 signatures by July 20. Or a candidate can create a new party and collect 51,904 valid signatures by June 10. By law each petition must say that "the signers of this petition intend to organize a new political party" rather chilling to some people.
Oklahoma requires 37,027 by June 15 - the highest number of signatures per capita.
Other states add to their signature totals by having excessive filing fees, early deadlines, special colored paper or sizes for signature forms, of which one cannot get a sufficient number.
Actually, in the 19th century the US was more hospitable to third parties. They reciprocated by being on the leading edge of movements for the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, trade union rights, populist-progressive reforms like heralding the graduated income tax, and what became social security.
The Republican and Democrat Parties tightened the obstacles in the 20th Century. At the presidential level in 1987 they monopolized the Presidential debates by replacing the League of Women Voters with their own private company—the corporate funded Commission on Presidential Debates. They know that no matter how much you campaign, the only way to reach tens of millions of voters is through these debates. The two Parties have rigged the system to keep different views and solutions away from the public.
The system is rigged in a myriad of other ways. Without instant runoff voting, the winner-take-all procedure leaves out millions of voters along with their chosen candidates. It does not require a majority of voters to win - merely a plurality. Those not in the plurality get nothing for their vote. New ideas, new approaches and new voices do not get the opportunity to grow.
Imagine what would happen if nature did not allow seeds to sprout or businesses did not allow entrepreneurs to start. You don't have to imagine what this denial of small starts does to the two parties dialing for the same business dollars. They become more and more alike as concentrated corporate power weakens countervailing forces like trade unions and civic groups. The latest stage of atrophy is the more frequent demonic redistricting that is establishing one-party dominated districts in most legislative races. Politicians are now picking their voters, more than voters picking their elected officials.
There comes a point where we either adjust to a decaying duopoly that forces us to choose the least-worst as they drag down our country and its people at modestly different speeds; or we bang on the doors, mobilize the people and energize voters in the hope that someday the Republican-Democrat wall will crack open for clean responsive political structures to enter.