Sunday, June 13, 2010

Attempts to Squash Challenger Political Parties

When Americans vote for candidates, most of them think they are choosing between Republicans and Democrats. The more fundamental choice is between the challenger parties and the establishment parties. When one votes for a Republican or a Democrat, in effect on is accepting the status quo, and is choosing among currents in the political mainstream instead of a different river.

In California, for example, besides the Republican and Democratic parties, there are several challenger parties: the American Independent Party for right-wing conservatives, the Green Party for radical environmentalists, the Libertarian Party for tolerant free-marketeers, and the Peace and Freedom Party for state-socialists.

Even though the small challenger parties seldom win elections, they offer a meaningful choice for voters who fundamentally reject the status quo. The policies of the establishment mainstream have resulted in the outcomes that are ruining the planet and the economy: massive pollution, a depressed economy, Grand Canyon sized budget deficits, high unemployment, and endless war.

Despite the small party membership and votes of the minor parties, the establishment feels threatened by the ideas generated by the challengers. They seek to stifle the voices of protest and radical change. An example was Proposition 14 on the California ballot on 8 June 2010. Proposition 14 replaced the party primary elections with an election in which voters will select from all the candidates from all the parties. The top two vote getters will then be on the ballot for the general election, even if both are in the same political party.

This proposition was bad on many dimensions. First of all, it violates freedom of association. Voters should be able to associate in a party of common interests, and then choose the candidate from their party. Why, for example, should those not in the Green Party be able to vote for a Green candidate, drowning out the voices of the party members? This constitutes party crashing.

Secondly, the voices of the challenger party will be extinguished in the general election. Even write-in candidates would not be allowed for state and national candidates. Not only that, challenger voices would be stifled even in the primary election.

In California, minor political parties retain their ballot status by polling at least two percent of the vote in a midterm (not presidential year) general election. Under Proposition 14, since only the major party candidates would be on the ballot, the challenger parties will lose their ballot status, unless the party membership is relatively large. Candidates of some of the smaller challenger parties will not be able to include their party affiliation in the primary election. Those not familiar with the party candidates would not know which candidate is in the Peace and Freedom or Libertarian parties.

The establishment parties get their funding from special interests and in return, provide them with subsidies. Our social problems can only be remedied with radical changes that would eliminate these privileges. Proposals to eliminate party voting would stifle these choices and voices.

We have today the forms of democracy, but not the substance. The establishment party bosses set the agenda by backing the establishment candidates. Occasionally a challenger within a party will win, such as the political upsets that occurred in the spring of 2010. But these candidates usually move towards the center in the general election.

Only the challenger parties can provide an alternative to the status quo in the general election. But the voters may not fully understand the effects of voiding party elections. They may not understand that the elimination of party primary elections would further demolish the substance of democracy, leaving a shell, an illusion of choice, that would be even more deeply exploited by the special interests.


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