Category Archives: Ballot Access

How The “Top 2 Open Primary” System Limits Voter Choice

Measure 90 in Oregon is on the ballot, which will create a top 2 open primary system where voters pick between all candidates running for an office and the top 2 candidates, regardless of the parties the candidates are or the percentage the winning candidate receives. So theoretically, there could be a general election between two Republicans or two Democrats. This is the system in use in California and Louisiana.

Supporters believe that it will decrease partisanship and increase voter choice. One of the strongest arguments supporters of “top 2″ make is that non-affiliated voters are shut out of the process because the major parties close their primary process to non-party members.

However, the “top 2″ open primary system limits voter choice because minor party candidates, unless they’re wealthy or well-known, will not have an opportunity to enter the general election. Also, this will essentially make political parties meaningless and empower special interests. Finally, this is essentially an incumbent protection racket because the anti-incumbent vote can be split up and made irrelevant. Finally, if you’re a partisan Democrat and the two general election candidates are Republicans, you’re disenfranchised and have no choice on the ballot.

It would be easier to just have regular party primaries, but require as a condition of state funding of the primary election that they be opened to non-affiliated or independent voters.

Here’s an interview on a YouTube show between supporters and opponents of Measure 90.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Why America’s “Third-Party Airline” Shouldn’t Sponsor The Debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates has been coming under a lot of fire for their exclusion of third parties this year, due largely to the fact that Gary Johnson is polling at 6% nationally and happens to be suing them* at the moment. As Reason points out, they’ve already lost three national sponsors, and are currently at a lower overall sponsor number than any previous debate.

But they still have seven national sponsors, one of which is Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines seems like a strange company to participate in an exclusionary political sham**, given their history as a minority carrier in the market, and the fact that they so clearly buck industry trends.

So I’m sending them the below letter. Southwest is, IMHO, opposed to the very sort of exclusionary pull that the CPD is trying to push. I’d recommend that others write, call, etc to let them know how you feel***. If you’d like, feel free to use the below as your own template (although I note that it’s too long for their email submission form, so I’m sending it by US mail).

The CPD is perpetuating a sham, and has lost three national sponsors. Let’s try to make it four.

Dear Southwest Airlines,

I am writing today to express my surprise and dismay to learn that you are a sponsor of the Commission on Presidential Debates. While I understand your goal – to create an informed electorate in American participatory democracy – I don’t believe that the CPD’s practices are beneficial to the national dialogue. Further, I don’t believe that their exclusionary policy towards third-party candidates is consistent with the ethos of Southwest Airlines, the very successful “third-party” airline.

Southwest was a beneficiary of airline deregulation – of ending the system that said that every bit of air travel should be controlled by the Civil Aeronautics Board, including fares and routes of service. Southwest was forced to defend their right to fly even intrastate flights without submission to the CAB in court, an action that rose all the way to the US Supreme Court. Southwest was unable to expand into interstate routes until deregulation occurred and the CAB was dismantled. Of all enterprises, Southwest Airlines should be especially sensitive to the abuses of monopoly/oligopoly powers.

Today, the Commission on Presidential Debates is akin to the CAB. It is a body wholly run by, and for the benefit of, the Republican and Democrat Parties. Its goals are to keep third-party candidates (and by extension, third-party ideas) out of the public eye. It’s no different than the CAB only allowing approved airlines to fly interstate routes, with one exception: it’s a field far more important than air travel – the very decision of who will exert political power over American citizens.

Two minor-party candidates will be on the ballot in enough states to have a mathematical possibility of winning 270 electoral votes; Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party. While I certainly think it’s unlikely that either has a credible chance to win, I find it deplorable that Southwest Airlines would support a debate organization that won’t even offer them the chance to stand on stage and offer an alternative to the major parties.
I personally believe that Southwest Airlines continues to exist in the marketplace because you are different; you have more efficient business practices that allow you to streamline operations, offering lower-cost flights while still remaining profitable. Your very existence also forces the major carriers to change their practices to meet your competition. Free competition – the competition that CPD is insulating the major parties from – causes all players in the market to improve.

You offer your customers a choice, yet by your sponsorship of CPD you support a debate organization that hides choice from Americans.

I don’t believe Southwest Airlines would appreciate a monopoly action by American and United determining which airlines were entitled to land US airports. Nor do I think Southwest Airlines should sponsor a debate organizer who determines which voices are entitled to reach the ears of the American voter. As a business traveler, I fly Southwest several times each year. I do so because you offer me a compelling product not available from the major carriers. I humbly ask that you reconsider your sponsorship of an organization that won’t allow a compelling non-major product a platform in America’s most competitive product arena – our very governance.

Regards,
Brad Warbiany

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Preference Voting — Darling Of The LP, But Does It Work?

Anyone who’s read my work here over the years will have realized that I’m not very interested in political horse races. It’s not to say that I don’t think there is some importance to them (as several contributors here do pay close attention), but that others can cover that stuff far better than I can, and at the end of the day it interests me not at all.

What does interest me is structures and incentives. I don’t think we’ll be able to make a meaningful change in the direction of this country unless we find a way to get the Republican/Democrat “Beast with Two Asses” to relinquish control and have actual diversity in Congress.

The structure of our government is such that it naturally trends towards a two-party system. The centrism of the American populace aligns those two parties into a nominal one-party system, standing a few steps for and a few steps aft of the mast of the Big Government yacht, but all riding in the exact same direction. Anyone who would dare rock the boat is purged.

So how do we fix this? Well, one option is replacing “first past the post” voting with ranked balloting. The sad truth of standard plurality elections in a dominant two-party system is that voting for a third party is a vote against your preferred of the two candidates. If you want the LP to win but could live with the Republican, voting Libertarian makes it more, not less, likely a Democrat will be elected instead. In ranked voting, you rank your acceptable candidates by preference, so ranking your LP candidate first and the Republican candidate second allows your second vote to stand should the Libertarian lose.

The question is — would it make a difference? The answer, unfortunately, is likely no:

But instead, the version being offered in Britain will allow voters to write in a first preference, and leave all others blank: the professor calls this practice “plumping.”

This is very significant, Mr Bogdanor argues, and he has the data to back this up. He notes that the stated purpose of AV is to avoid the anomaly by which a candidate can win a constituency on a minority of the vote.

However, he explains, it is not correct to say that AV ensures every MP is elected by a majority. In the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales, “plumping” is allowed in elections to state legislatures. And where it is allowed, it is very common. He records:

The greater the degree of plumping, the more an alternative vote election turns into a first past the post election…In Queensland, in 2009, where the Labor Party advised its supporters to “Just Vote 1″, to give Labor their first preference and not to give a preference to any other candidate, around 63% of voters plumped. Even where a party does offer advice, that advice may be ignored. In Queensland, the Greens advised that second preferences be given to Labor, but 46% of Green voters decided to plump

There are many arguments for and against AV. Many will be rehearsed here over the next few weeks (you lucky people). But for now, consider this possibility: by avoiding a dreadful form of AV (one which would make the use of all preferences obligatory), British backers of AV may have chosen a system that amounts to a gussied-up form of FPTP with added complexity and aggravation.

In a system built to be dominated by two parties at the Congressional level (not at the district level), we don’t have a system requiring multiple minority parties to work together to “create a government”. That’s more of a parliamentary system with proportional representation. Nor do we, as Americans enamored with representative democracy, seem to want that — we want to elect AN individual to represent OUR OWN interests in Washington [not that this actually happens, of course].

So it’s quite likely that Republicans and Democrats will each put their own party and zero other candidates on a ranked ballot. Those of us outside the two main parties will put our third-party preference and our second choice on a ranked ballot. And at the end of the day, you’ll end up with a Congress filled with the same Republicans and Democrats we started with. In the few cases where a minority party candidate is elected (say, for example, where a popular main-party candidate is skewered in the primary and goes third-party), it may make it easier to end up in office, but still isn’t a major change to the system.

I’m a fan of changing structure, and I see the allure of preference voting. In fact, I think preference voting is a worthy change. But I think that preference voting, in and of itself, would have effectively zero impact on the American political landscape. For it to be important, it would have to be paired with other structural changes that would improve the likelihood that minority parties would end up with a seat at the table. Like most things with the $3.5T Leviathan, it’ll take more than preference voting to make a real difference.

Colorado Republican Party Could Lose More in the Governor’s Race than the Election

In an election year that seems to favor Republicans nationally, there’s a whole different story unfolding here in the Centennial State in the gubernatorial campaign. The Republican candidate Dan Maes has lost support even among the party faithful due largely to being caught in a lie about his law enforcement background in Kansas back in the ‘80s. Most of the grass roots support among conservatives has gone to former Republican congressman turned American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo.

I’m by no means a fan or supporter of Tom Tancredo but I do find this turn of events to be quite amusing. Conservatives have been pleading with Meas (the Republican) to withdraw from the race as he stands to spoil Tancredo’s (the third party candidate) chances of beating the Democrat, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (and recent polling suggests that if Tancredo takes more votes from Maes, Tancredo stands a decent chance of actually winning).

But it gets even better. The Denver Daily News reports:

A poor showing for Maes Nov. 2 could have serious implications for the Republican Party in Colorado. If the candidate fails to garner at least 10 percent of the vote, Republicans could be relegated to minor party status for the next two election cycles, meaning they would appear lower on the ballot and could only receive half as much in donations as Democrats.

The Republican Party to become a “minor party” for the next two election cycles? How great would that be: one of the two major parties having to see what life is like for third parties and their candidates? With the polling as it stands now, it appears that no candidate will win more than 50% of the vote. If Hickenlooper wins, maybe it will be conservatives who will champion the ideas that third party candidates have been championing for some time like range voting or instant runoff voting.

The article continues:

“In a telephone interview, Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams said he does not believe the Colorado Legislature would allow Republicans to become a minor party.

Whether Maes makes the 10 percent mark, Wadhams said he expects Colorado leaders to change to rule.

“That’s something I’m not too worried about right now,” he said.

Isn’t that just like our two party system? When they don’t get their way they work to change the rules?

Hopefully whatever happens, third parties will be better able to compete in future elections in Colorado as a result of this wildly entertaining campaign.

Nader Scores Big Court Victory for Third Party Candidates

It’s not often that I sing the praises of unsafe-at-any-speed Ralph Nader, but his recent legal victory is worthy of such praises.

LOS ANGELES, March 9 /PRNewswire/ — In a significant move for open-election laws, the U.S. Supreme Court today rejected an attempt to overturn a federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that the state of Arizona could not require independent presidential candidates to register earlier than candidates affiliated with major political parties.

Arizona’s petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court had been closely watched after 13 other states supported Arizona’s bid to have the High Court hear the case. The federal civil rights case, originally filed in Arizona federal district court, stems from Nader’s 2004 presidency bid.

Ralph Nader had challenged the deadline, contending it violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and political association. Lead Attorney Robert Barnes of the Bernhoft Law Firm represented Nader before the Ninth Circuit, which overturned the district court and unanimously declared the Arizona law unconstitutional. Nader’s Bernhoft Law legal team successfully argued that requiring independent candidates to register by June was unfair when the two major political parties did not hold their conventions until the fall.

Perhaps as just as important was the other aspect of Nader’s challenge was the lower court striking down the provision in Arizona law which required petition circulators to be registered to vote within the state. Paul Jacob and others can now circulate petitions to any state government without fear of being put in jail. What a concept!