Reprinted in full, with permission, from Ballot Access News, the newsletter of highly respected ballot access expert Richard Winger.
Government-printed ballots in the United States were first created in 1888, and almost from the start, opponents of new and minor political parties started manipulating the ballot access laws to keep certain parties off the ballot. The first such instance was in Nevada, when the 1893 legislature increased the petition requirement for new parties and independent candidates to 10% of the last vote cast, in a vain attempt to keep the Peoples (Populist) Party off the ballot.
But in over a century of struggle to avoid monopolization of the general election ballot to just the two major parties, there has never been a pressure group that worked in favor of restrictive ballot access laws, until very recently. Leaders of the former New Alliance Party, who have renamed themselves several times, now call themselves IndependentVoting.org. They hold themselves out as the leaders of independent voters, but they have become a pressure group working to limit choices on the general election ballot to just Democrats and Republicans.
IndependentVoting fund-raising pitches say that the organization’s goal is to enable independent voters to vote in major party primaries. However, the bulk of IndependentVoting’s activity during 2010 has been to advance the goal of switching California to the top-two system. This is ironic, because California had already been a state (ever since 2001) in which independent voters were already able to vote in all major party primaries for Congress and state office.
Compared to Republican and Democratic voters, independent voters are the most supportive voters for minor party candidates. For example, see this poll taken in the North Carolina U.S. Senate race in 2010, which shows that Libertarian Party nominee Michael Beitler received the support of 12% of independent voters, whereas he received the votes of only 3% of the major party voters. Other polls that give this much detail, from other states in 2010, showed similar results; see this example fromCalifornia. Thus, when a new election system appears that removes minor party candidates from the general election ballot, that new system disproportionately injures independent voters more than it injures any other voters.
The California top-two proposal does more harm than just removing minor party candidates from the general election ballot. It says write-ins can’t be counted in November for Congress and state office; it makes it far more difficult for a minor party to remain on the ballot for President; it discriminates against independent candidates by not letting themselves use the label “independent” on any ballot; and it vastly increases the number of signatures to get on the primary ballot for minor party candidates who don’t pay the filing fee. Notwithstanding all these harms done to voting rights, IndependentVoting enthusiastically supports the top-two law in California, and expresses open hostility toward minor parties. For example, see this cartoon, carried on a blog associated with IndependentVoting.
IndependentVoting communications have been dishonest. IndependentVoting has repeatedly asserted that independents were not permitted to vote in major party primaries in California before the adoption of the top-two system. IndependentVoting has also recently inaccurately claimed that the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 14, when the truth is that the court merely declined to expedite the case. IndependentVoting also fosters confusion, by constantly referring to the California top-two system as an “open primary”.
Members of the New Alliance Party were once defenders of voter choice in the general election. The New Alliance Party won ballot access lawsuits in Alabama, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington. Activists from the New Alliance Party wrote the first bill in Congress to outlaw restrictive ballot access laws, introduced by Congressman John Conyers in 1985. They worked hard for that bill, which was re-introduced in 1987 and 1989. In 1990, the Rainbow Lobby, associated with the New Alliance Party, managed to get 40 co-sponsors for the bill, although it did not pass. The New Alliance Party also filed many lawsuits against the Commission on Presidential Debates, trying to end the Democratic-Republican monopoly on presidential debates. These cases did not win, but they came closer to winning than any other lawsuits on this subject, and one of the New Alliance debates lawsuits won a procedural victory on standing to file such lawsuits.
Minor parties are hoping to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to hear cases against the Georgia and Hawaii ballot access laws, and are also hoping to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case against Connecticut’s discriminatory law on public funding of candidates, which requires independent candidates to submit a petition of 20% of the last vote cast (in addition to raising the same number of small campaign contributions that major party candidates must raise). IndependentVoting has shown no interest in supporting these efforts, and judging from the cartoon, supports the Connecticut discrimination against independent candidates in the matter of public funding.
Reader Randy Miller, who is active in IndependentVoting, recently and coincidentally sent this cartoon highlighting the other side of the debate.