Ballot box blues

For third parties, getting on the ballot isn’t a piece of cake

By Sarah Sidlow

Hundreds of aspiring high school politicians across this great collection of states have likely thrown their hats into the competitive ring of student elections—representing such underdog political teams as the Pants Party, the Party Party, or the Cocktail Party. The notion of against-the-grain third-party candidates is a popular one—particularly as voters pine for a presidential alternative to Hillary Clinton, who isn’t Donald Trump. But, as easy as it was to register as a representative for James Garfield High’s Pizza Party, the path to third-party candidacy isn’t always so clear-cut.

Few understand that better than Libertarian Gary Johnson of Ohio. Two weeks ago, Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, was polling 12 percent of Ohio’s vote. That’s pretty good, all things considered, and Johnson would like a place on the ballot, thank you very much. Although he finally got it, it wasn’t that easy.

The Libertarian Party ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld were trying to get on the ballot as independents (we’ll explain why later) in Ohio. In order to do so, the team collected 5,000 signatures and turned them in by the legal deadline, a few weeks ago. Since the signature-collecting process began months before anyone knew whom the official Libertarian candidate would be, another ticket of two—Charles Earl and Kenneth Moellman Jr.—allowed their names to be placed on the petitions instead, just to reserve a seat at the table, and then stepped down when the official Libertarian ticket was announced.

All of this follows the letter of the Ohio election code. Enter: roadblock.

In short, a spokesperson for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted recently told Reason.com he is unsure if that part of the election code “can be used in a presidential election,” nor is he sure “whether a candidate [Earl] can withdraw his candidacy before it has been certified.”

It’s a rather unconvincing argument many perceive to be the latest in a legacy of third-party candidates being bullied out of the political arena. Another shining example lies in the fact that Johnson got on the ballot as an independent, rather than a Libertarian. That’s because of Ohio SB 193, a 2013 Republican-backed law that makes qualifying for minor-party status complex and very difficult. So, the best any third-party candidate can hope for in Ohio is to clamber onto the ballot as an independent, essentially shielding the party’s name from any spotlight.

Ballot access laws, the guidelines that allow candidates to earn a place on the ballot, are decided by the state. Anecdotes such as this drive many to argue it’s time for serious reform. They claim the dominant dogs of the two-party system are muscling the little guys out of the ring, just because they can. Third-party candidates can have a big impact on elections, they argue, and Gary Johnson’s political plight is perfect evidence that a good candidate is being cast aside. Detractors also say that shenanigans like these seriously discourage participation from prospective candidates and voters.

But there are others who believe the third-party qualifying system is appropriate. They say it keeps the political race both honest and prestigious and eliminates those candidates who aren’t really taking it seriously (can the Pizza Party get a “hell yeah!”).

The other candidates expected to appear on Ohio’s ballot are Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

Others seeking to make the ballot with independent status similar to Johnson’s are Darrell Castle (of the Constitution Party), Greater Clevelander Richard Duncan of Aurora, and Michael Steinberg, a Californian who ran in that state’s Democratic primary and drew about 11,000 votes.

 Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com

No vexation without representation

By Don Hurst

This year’s election cycle proves that it is past time to make it easier for third parties to place candidates before the American people. The Republicans and Democrats have nominated two of the most reviled and untrusted candidates the United States has ever seen. Instead of voting for someone whom we respect, we are stuck voting for someone who is bad, just not as bad as the other candidate.

Let’s take a look at the quality candidates the two-party system has given us.

Hillary Clinton: lying about her bullet-riddled arrival in Bosnia, about classified emails on her private server, about Benghazi, and with scandals revolving around her “charitable” foundation – and the FBI calling her reckless with our national security. Sure, some of these scandals may have been manufactured by the Republicans, but there comes a point when we have to realize the reason it’s so easy to attach Clinton to unethical behavior is because she engages in unethical behavior.

Then, there’s Donald Trump. He wants to build a wall and have mass deportations. He ridiculed a handicapped reporter. Initially he wanted a freeze on Muslim immigrants. He ticked off military POWs when he insulted McCain by saying real heroes don’t get caught. He pissed off Muslims in the military by attacking the Khan family. Sure, some of these quotes may have been taken out of context by Democrats, but there comes a point when we have to realize the reason it’s so easy to attach Trump to stupid things is because he does stupid things.

This is it? This is the best we have? How legitimate is our government when we despise our leaders?

The Democratic and Republican parties have shoved these two down our throats. Now they just shrug their shoulders as we choke.

These two candidates do not represent the majority of the American people. In fact, the current two-party system does not represent the majority. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 42 percent of Americans do not identify as Republican or Democrat. Sixty percent of registered voters say it’s time for a third party because the ones in charge are failing to govern.

This is America. If we don’t like our representatives, we can just vote them out. Wrong. The government and quasi-government entities, like the Commission on Presidential Debates, work hard to ensure our choices are government-sanctioned. Candidates can’t even participate in debates unless they receive enough support from the five commission-approved national polls.

The candidates put to the vote are the ones vetted and approved by the establishment. Sound paranoid? Talk to Bernie Sanders’ supporters. The DNC emails prove that the party elite at least intended to subvert the Sanders campaign. We just have to take the DNC’s word for it that they didn’t actually rig the election for Clinton. They just wanted to.

The parties heavily influence the candidate pool. These candidates are usually the extreme true believers of their parties. They don’t play nice with others.

Extreme candidates created our current atmosphere of polarization and dysfunction. At first, we were Republicans versus Democrats. Then we were red states versus blue states, then conservatives versus liberals. Now, it’s right versus wrong.

A 2015 Pew Research survey found that partisan animosity is growing. People no longer think the other side has good intentions. Now, one side believes the other side is out to destroy America for its own nefarious purposes.

Right versus wrong is fast becoming good versus evil.

Compromise is impossible. If the other side is evil then it is your moral obligation to never give an inch. This is why we have gridlock in our government and nothing can get done.

The two-party system mandates right versus wrong. It dictates that there are only two solutions to a given problem. Watch any news show. It’s usually a liberal and a conservative pundit yelling over each other, trying to score points for his or her side. Rarely do you hear of third options.

Voters seeking a third option often can’t find it due to the government-placed hurdles for non-establishment candidates. As long as the government puts down third parties, we will never have synergy of our best ideas. We will continually be stuck in the non-productive, toxic, partisan polarization.

A third (or more) party might not cure our political dysfunction. But it would at least give moderates a chance. The two parties are becoming more extreme and moving further away from what most Americans want. They no longer represent the will of the American people. A third party would be an opportunity for the moderates from both sides to join together around common issues and leave the extremists to gnash their teeth on the fringes.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Enter the spoiler

By David H. Landon

In probably the most unorthodox and bizarre presidential election in American history, perhaps the only thing to come in on cue this cycle is the quadrennial cry that “democracy would be saved, if only it were easier for third-party candidates to appear on the presidential ballot.” This is pure balderdash. This presumes two facts not in evidence. First, it presumes there are no legitimate reasons for having a higher standard for a third-party candidate, or a third party in general, to qualify for the ballot. Secondly, it presumes having multiple parties and candidates to choose from would be beneficial in selecting our leaders and in ultimately governing this nation. Both of these presumptions are incorrect, as I will set forth below.

Let’s first examine why the America form of government as it has developed over the past 230 years eschews multiple-party government. Clearly, the American system has embraced a two-party system. It didn’t start out that way. There’s nothing in the Constitution calling for a two-party system, and the Founding Fathers initially were concerned about the influence of parties in national affairs. Although George Washington belonged to no party and warned against such developments, by the time Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson squared-off over whether the new nation would have a powerful central government or a more limited type of government, the party system was born: Federalists, later the Democrats, who espoused a strong central government and the Republicans, later Democratic-Republicans, and still later, Whigs, who wanted a limited national government.

And that, my friends, was the nexus for the two-party system. One party, having seen the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation, wanted the benefits of a strong central government and a second political party, still concerned over the abuses of King George, wanted freedom from government and a more limited national government. Two hundred-plus years later, those are still the basic principles of the two parties – more government from the Democrats and less government from the Republicans.  Everything else is a variation of these two themes. All third parties, if you boil them down to their bare -bones belief, fall under either the larger role for government or the smaller role for government.

For example, the Libertarian Party, in addition to many other platform positions, believes in limited government and individual freedom. The Green Party, in protecting the environment and turning us all into vegans, wants more government intervention. The American Taxpayer Party, which changed its name to the Constitution Party, advocates a strict interpretation of the Constitution and more power for states and localities. The Socialist Party, well … just reference Bernie Sanders’ platform, and we see an advocacy for a massive role for government. The second most effective third-party presidential candidate was Ross Perot, whose Reform Party in 1992 ran on a platform of reducing the federal deficit, putting it on the smaller-government side of the two-party ledger. Perot garnered 19 percent of the vote and drew sufficient votes away from George H.W. Bush to elect Bill Clinton. The most effective, and only third party, to win a presidential election was in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln and the newly formed Republican Party broke from the Whig Party over the issue of ending the scourge of slavery.

There are several examples of when a third-party raised issues, which later were adopted by one of the major parties, such as Perot’s “balanced budget” and the Populist Party introduction of the notion of a 40-hour work week. But, by and large, these third-party forays into presidential elections rarely accomplish more than to serve as the role of a spoiler. Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy in 2000 siphoned off 2 million votes, which, in all likelihood, would have gone to Al Gore, handing the election to George W. Bush. Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party, which split from the Republican Party, cost President Robert Taft his re-election in 1912.

It clearly is more difficult to make the ballot as a third-party candidate, as it should be.

In Ohio, a third-party candidate must file 5,000 valid signatures on his or her nominating petitions. A major party candidate need only file 1,000 valid signatures. The reason for this is to avoid filling up the ballot with non-serious candidates. In France, 24 political parties compete for votes to control the French Parliament and presidency. Our Italian friends have 10 major and 32 minor political parties from which to choose their candidates. Although I haven’t done an in-depth analysis, I’m guessing all 42 parties could be reduced to two groups: the more-government proponents and the less-government proponents. Modeling the U.S. style of government after the multi-party system of France or Italy or any similarly styled government is a spectacularly bad idea.

There is presently an anti-major party mood in the electorate. We see that bearing out in the traditional Republican candidates being dispatched during the primary season by Donald Trump. We also saw that in the Bernie Sanders supporters who viewed Clinton as too establishment to earn their support and repeatedly heard their angst about “super delegates.” The clamor for a third-party candidate is likely to pass, but who knows, perhaps we will see a candidate like former porn star Ilona Staller, now a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, representing the Partito dell’Amore (Party of Love).

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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