A Progressive Case for Ballot Access Reform

Confronted with the plain truth of the fact that the Democratic Party stands for nothing more than the reproduction of the global warfare and corporate welfare state, some progressive activists have begun to question the delusion under which so many of them labored for so many years, namely, that the Democratic Party stands for something other than the reproduction of the global warfare and corporate welfare state. At Attack of the Machine Elves, Maikeru (who also posts as Big Tex at FDL), has begun a series of posts under the title "Political Reform: Change we can REALLY believe in." Maikeru writes:
Many of us on the left had great expectations of this new President and his fellow Democrats, expectations that would be dashed to pieces against the jagged reality of a political system that was oriented towards protecting the interests of concentrated wealth. In retrospect, of course, we should have known better than to get our hopes up: the man in whom we had invested them was a product of the very same political realities that ultimately conspired to destroy the promise so many of us saw in him, as were the elected Democrats whose help he would need in fulfilling that promise.
The author then goes on to compile a long list of necessary political reforms, encompassing everything from the voting system and ballot access issues to terms limits, political literacy and the party nominating process. Today, Maikeru argues that "ballot access reform is the first step in fixing America's broken political system," and provides a short history of ballot access restriction, writing:
if we are to steer this country away from disaster we must first clear the path for economic and social reform by achieving fundamental systemic changes to break the two-party duopoly and replace it with an open multiparty democracy. One of the first, and certainly one of the most important, elements in that systemic reform must be the liberalization of ballot access laws at the federal and state level . . .

The pernicious effect of ballot access laws as barriers to political participation certainly isn’t limited to minor party or independent candidates, nor is it limited to general elections: Democratic and Republican candidates running in primaries for their parties’ nominations are often faced with onerous requirements that include gathering and validating a high number of signatures from registered voters, paying excessive filing fees, and navigating byzantine and overly technical petition requirements. But the barriers faced by members of the Big Two are nothing compared to those faced by minor party and independent candidates, due to the fact that ballot access laws are generally structured to favor established political parties. In some states, minor party and independent petitioners are handcuffed by laws that prohibit people who have either voted in a party’s primary or registered as party member from signing ballot petitions. Democrats and Republicans have done such an effective job gaming the system against minor parties that no third party since 1920 has been able to place candidates on the ballot in half or more of congressional races in any given election cycle.

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.


Maikeru said...

Hi, this is Maikeru at AOTME and just wanted to say thanks for linking to the articles referenced above and let you know that I'll be adding your blog to my blogroll.

I think there's a growing apreciation among people from various points on the political continuum of the need for fundamental political reform, and my hope is that we progressives can find common cause to work with libertarians, conservatives, and moderates alike on the things we agree on such as ballot access, even if there are some points like campaign finance that we might disagree on. I think that ballot access reform, along with fusion balloting, represent our best starting point in terms of what we can achieve, what we can build a broad consensus for, and what we can use to set the stage for other elements of reform in the future.

d.eris said...

Thanks for the comment Maikeru. I'm looking forward to reading the future installments of your series. Good stuff. Ballot access reform is imperative. A third party activist (I don't have the link ready at hand) recently called it a defining civil rights issue for the 21st century.

I've been trying to make the case for an anti-corporatist libertarian-progressive alliance for a few months now. There is some real promise there. And I've been glad to see folks at FDL come out against rabid duopolist partisanship of late.

As an aside, I noticed in your list of reforms on the initial post, you put instant run-off voting right at the top, but also have a link to the center for range voting in your sidebar. imho, though IRV gets more attention, the case for range voting is much stronger, but there aren't many voices articulating its strengths.

I'll be sure to check out AOTME on the regular.

Maikeru said...

Thanks d.eris. I've posted a bit over at FDL, and am very supportive of what Jane Hamsher is trying to accomplish in pushing back against corporatism and finding common cause with people from across the political spectrum. I post at Daily Kos too, and there's been quite a bit of hostility thrown at her and her defenders by the hardcore Obama cultists, but more than a few voices of support as well.

Regarding range voting, I'm relatively new to the concept but am intrigued by what I've learned about it thus far. I'm planning on posting an article (or more) at my blog taking a closer look at IRV, range voting, and other voting alternatives to discuss their pros and cons, and of course look forward to hearing from anyone who can add their wisdom to the discussion.

d.eris said...

I've been following the controversy surrounding Hamsher a little bit here at Poli-Tea, but emphasizing the promise of a libertarain-progressive anti-corporatist alliance.

I only first learned about range voting in the last year or so myself. If you're interested in looking into it some more, I highly recommend Least of All Evils, a blog devoted to demonstrating the strengths of RV over IRV and plurality.