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Progressive Values in an Election Season

By Kimberly Wilder  Posted by Ian Wilder (about the submitter)     Permalink
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If you are a progressive, you probably think of yourself as having a high sense of ethics. You probably care about justice and fairness. You probably believe in carefully guarding people’s freedoms and people’s civil rights.

Why do so many progressives throw these values out the window when it comes time for campaign season?

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There are many progressives who have stood idly by while major parties or major party politicians do things such as:

-write unfair ballot access laws
-support and defend unfair ballot access laws
-play unfair strategy games to block other candidates from ballot access
-create arguments that stifle another candidate’s right to free speech and right to run
-create arguments to vilify other candidates as expressing “heretic dissent” to the lead contender for the Democratic ticket

Progressives would not accept these behaviors and attitudes from government. Progressives would, under usual circumstances, despise incumbent politicians who exhibited these behaviors.

So, why do progressives allow for these behaviors when election times rolls around, and there is a Democratic Party candidate who believes he or she deserves to win at all costs?

I am someone who is a humble citizen–who has never had a paid, political job; who is working class; and who has dreams of peace on earth and justice for all–who has tried to run for office myself. Having had the desire to be a candidate, I have experienced whole-heartedly that being allowed to run for office is my right, as much as my right to vote and my right to free speech. If I am not allowed to be a candidate on the ballot, then I am not a full member of this democracy. There should not be a separation between myself and the people who run and serve in government. Otherwise, we are not all equal. Otherwise, it is not a true democracy.

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There are principles and case law that uphold the vision that, in a democracy, citizens must have a right to run for office. Mirrington v. Vandermark states that, “In a representative form of government, it is essential that the courts protect a citizen’s right to vote and his correlative right to be a candidate for office.”

When a state government sets up unfair ballot access laws, they are truly impeding on a person’s basic rights in a democracy. Running for office is not a privilege. It is clearly, a right. So, to get on the ballot should not be an impossible, or nearly impossible hurdle. Getting on the ballot is not supposed to be something that you must buy at a high cost, or need a lawyer to help you accomplish. Getting on the ballot should, and must, be something attainable by every citizen who sincerely wishes to run and to serve.

When I ran for office, I ran into horribly unfair ballot access laws. In my state, as in many others, there are different criteria for major party candidates, for third party candidates, and for independents. It should not be the case that a citizen’s decision to belong or not belong to a certain party takes away one of her basic rights.

In New York, as in other states, laws about signature requirements to run for office are created by the Democrat and Republican controlled State Legislature. For each office, the formula for how many signatures required means that Democrats and Republicans must collect far fewer signatures than independent candidates. (And, while official “third parties” have it easier, it is very difficult to become a third party, especially if you are a third party that won’t cross endorse the major parties.) So, when I tried to run for State Senate, I needed to collect 3,000 signatures, while the major parties would only need 1,000 signatures to run in the same race. That is simply unfair.

Richard Winger, editor and publisher of Ballot Access News, has stated, “The extreme disparity of the burdens placed on old, established parties versus new parties has no parallel in any other democratic nation in the world. Indeed, the number of signatures required for Democrats and Republicans to get on primary ballots is itself too high in some states, and as a result about 25% of all state legislative races present the voter with only one candidate on the general election ballots.” (The Importance of Ballot Access” by Richard Winger, reprinted from Long Term View, Spring 1994.)

As progressives, we would not usually approve of such hurdles to the exercise of our freedom. As progressives, we would usually fight against something that is clearly impinging on our civil rights.

Though, there is no, great outcry about unfair ballot access laws.

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And, in fact, one of the champions of the ballot access cause has been Ralph Nader. He has tried to show people a variety of ways that the two major parties have blocked citizen’s from participating fairly in democracy. And, Nader has run for office himself, partly as a model and trailblazer to show the injustice of the system and the injustice of current ballot access laws.

And, instead of recognizing mission, many progressives have attacked Ralph Nader. But, they have not simply attacked Nader, they have further attacked his right to run for office, by applying all sorts of arguments and strategies, that those same progressives would find odious if done by government to any other citizen.

Some Democrats believe (I think wrongly) that blocking other progressive candidates from the ballot will keep more votes for their Democratic nominee. That means that people who believe that they are in the more progressive party, also think that it is worth allowing for and celebrating unjust laws and tactics, to help their team have an edge in a competition.

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