Third party candidates deserve easier access onto ballots
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 9, 2012 22:09
In this upcoming election, Connecticut voters will have the chance to choose from four candidates on the ballot for President – Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney, Libertarian Gary Johnson, and Rocky Anderson of the Connecticut Independent Party. However, there are several interested and legitimate third-party candidates, including Jill Stein of the Green Party, who will not be on the ballot due to Connecticut’s restrictive ballot access laws.
Signature requirements for third parties differ by state. Colorado, which only requires candidates to file and pay a fee, vastly differs from Oklahoma, which requires petitions signed by 5 percent of the voters in the previous election. Colorado and other states with the same policy should be commended for their interest in promoting democracy. Other states should follow their lead and adopt the same policy.
There will be 17 candidates listed on the presidential ballot in Colorado this year. These candidates represent a diverse set of viewpoints, ranging from Rosanne Barr on the Peace & Freedom Party line, to Gloria LaRiva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, to the Objectivist Party’s Tom Stevens. Virtually all Coloradans should be able to find one candidate for president who they support.
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, only Obama and Romney are listed on the ballot at the moment, although there is a lawsuit pending by Johnson. If he is not successful, Oklahomans will only have two choices for President, and since the state does not allow write-ins, residents will be forced to pick either Obama or Romney. This is arguably not democratic.
A true democracy would allow citizens tovote for any candidate they choose. Unfortunately, in the age of machine-counted ballots, this is impossible. However, the next best option is to allow any candidate who files to get on the ballot, just as Colorado does. The more options there are in an election, the freer the election is. Coloradans, whether they’re socialist, libertarian, objectivist, pro-life, or even white supremacist, will be able to vote for a candidate who shares their viewpoint. That is good for democracy.
On the other hand, none of those ideologies are represented on the ballot in Oklahoma this year due to the states’ extremely restrictive ballot laws. Considering 80% of Americans would consider voting for a third party this November, there is clear interest in voting for someone other than the two “major” parties.
Colorado recognizes this and allows 15 other candidates to be present on the ballot, giving voters a plethora of options. Oklahoma, on the other hand, failed to offer voters any other options. Unless the Johnson lawsuit succeeds, Oklahoma voters, no matter what they believe in politically, will only have two options. That is unfair to the 80% of voters who are considering voting outside the two party system.
Another good state for ballot access is Iowa, which simply requires parties to hold a convention to nominate a candidate. In fact, Iowa is the only state with a perfect record for third party ballot access. The only remotely large third party presidential campaign that failed to get on the ballot in Iowa was Strom Thurmond in 1948, but he had no interest in ballot access outside the South. Every other third party presidential candidate who campaigned on the national level has been on the ballot in Iowa.
As a result, Iowa’s Board of Elections has spent very little money counting write-in votes, since almost all Iowans are happy with one of the choices on the ballot. This reduced expenditure in turn saves the taxpayers money. So, in addition to furthering democracy, increasing ballot access actually reduces government spending. While states often claim it would be expensive to allow over a dozen candidates on the ballot, it is actually far more expensive to certify several thousand signatures for each candidate who submits them and then count thousands of write-in votes for the multiple candidates who did not make it. So, even if money were an excuse for denying democracy, it clearly does not apply here.
By reducing restrictions for ballot access in elections, states would improve democracy. Ideally, all states should follow Colorado’s lead and grant access to anyone who files. At the very least, states like Oklahoma should drastically reduce their present requirements. That is the only way we can be a true democracy.