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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/18/10

Thinking beyond the two party system

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These laws and practices include, but are not limited to:

Ballot access laws. These are laws that set up varying benchmarks that a candidate must meet in order to appear on the ballot. They differ from state to state and from office to office and are harshest against third party candidates. Other than a cursory rule for candidates to register for the ballot, it's unclear what the purpose of these laws are, other than restricting competition and keeping incumbents safe. As Daily Kos user Big Tex states (I highly encourage you to read the whole piece),

The ballot access barrier isn't the only tool that the Republican/Democratic duopoly has used to maintain its hold on political power, but it has been one of the most important and effective tools in their arsenal. And their control over the workings of the American political system has had an observable degrading effect on democracy in this country: what was once a relatively robust political system with viable minor parties has devolved into a dysfunctional mess plagued by low voter turnout, low turnover, and gridlock. Contrast this with the situation in other democracies, where ballot access thresholds are set much lower and minor parties are a much bigger variable in the political equation. In the UK, for example, where three major political parties and several minor parties have all been able to seat members of parliament, parties don't have to petition to get on the ballot, and are only required to complete a relatively (in comparison with America) simple registration process with the nation's Electoral Commission. The threshold for party ballot access is low enough that there are nearly 400 registered parties in the UK. And individual candidates for parliament in the UK are only required to submit the signatures of 10 registered voters and a 500 deposit.

In fact, these incumbent protection laws are so absurdly stringent that Richard Winger claims they potentially violate an an international agreement.

In reality, America's ballot-access laws are so stringent, and third parties are repressed to such a degree, that the U.S. is probably in violation of the Copenhagen Meeting Document, an international agreement the U.S. signed in 1990 that requires nations to:

"Respect the right of individuals and groups to establish, in full freedom, their own political organizations and provide such political parties and organizations with the necessary legal guarantees to enable them to compete with each other on the basis of equal treatment before the law and the authorities."

How does the U.S. violate this agreement? Suppose that a new party were founded in 1994, with popular support that equaled that of the Democratic or Republican Party. In order to contest all the executive and legislative offices up for election on November 8th, 1994, it would need to collect about 4,454,579 valid signatures. And some of these signatures would need to be collected ten months before the election. By contrast, the Democratic and Republican parties would not need to submit any signatures to get themselves on the ballots, and their candidates would need only to collect about 882,484 valid signatures to place themselves on primary ballots.

In another piece, Richard Winger reminds us what is fundamentally wrong about ballot access laws. It is the politicians who are looking after their own interest who are deciding who gets a chance to win the election, not the voters.

We must go back to basics, and re-think the question, "What are ballots for?" Ballots are to permit the voters to vote for the candidates of their choice. If there are voters who wish to vote for a candidate, and that candidate is omitted (against his or her will) from the ballot, then the ballot is faulty. It isn't doing its job. The purpose of ballots is to facilitate the wishes of voters, NOT to control whom they vote for.

Gerrymandering. Now, this isn't necessarily a product of the two party system, but the two party system does a wonderful job of reinforcing it. I have seen many progressives use the argument that if Democrats don't gerrymander then they won't be competitive with Republicans. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the two party system, that may very well be true in today's world. In the words of Steven Hill, in his eye-opening book "Fixing Elections,"

At its best, then, the redistricting process is hardly an innocent one, nor are its outcomes best for American democracy or national policy, despite the claims of the professional political class. In fact, when closely examining the redistricting process...the last thing on anyone's mind, even that of noted political scientists, is the impact of redistricting on voters, on representation, on our democracy - indeed, on our national future. One of the most corrosive effects of...the gerrymandering of legislative districts is its understated impact on the psyche of voters, and whether each individual voter is imbued with an internalized sense that their vote is powerful. During the redistricting process most voters are plunked into safe, one-party districts, and at that moment their vote becomes either superfluous...or impotent...the act of voting becomes a waste of time, and a cruel hoax to their democratic aspirations.

In this case, competition on the ballot isn't the only thing that's harmed. By making the races uncompetitive and guaranteeing that either the incumbent or the incumbent party will have a certain reelection, voters are systematically dis-empowered, and the foundation of republic starts to rot.

And the idea of one party districts brings me to my next point.


We live in a one-party nation.

Once again, don't get the idea that I think we live under the rule of the Warfare Party or the Demopublican Party. I mean that large swaths of the country literally have only one major party. For instance, if Massachusetts had ballot access laws as strict as Pennsylvania's, then the Republican Party would not be qualified for the ballot there. And in 2008, every single county of Oklahoma went to John McCain. In major cities across the United States, there are unbelievably Democratic - that's a big "D" for sure - governments.

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Ross Levin a young activist who also writes for,, He first became active in politics in the 2008 presidential campaign through Mike Gravel's quixotic run for the Democratic (more...)
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