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A Progressive Case for Ballot Access Reform



Poli-Tea
January 11, 2010
 

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.


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