Tag Archives: Libertarian Party

Time to End the Elections Duopoly

RGBStock.com Vote PencilCalifornia’s elections system is making news again (“Top-two primary system survives challenge,” by Thomas Elias, Salinas Californian, February 17). “Top two,” in California and elsewhere, is the latest effort to strengthen the Republican and Democratic parties’ monopoly — “duopoly” — over  American politics.

Supporters’ justifications for “top two” laws are that too much choice on the November ballot “confuses” voters, and that permitting only two candidates avoids run-offs and plurality rather than majority winners. So while those pesky third party (Libertarian, Green, etc.) and independent candidates can run in the earlier primary elections if they jump through enough hoops, in November voters must choose between the “top two” primary vote-getters — almost always  a Republican and a Democrat.

The single largest voter identification in the United States, exceeding any party’s, is “independent.” Polling consistently shows that pluralities or majorities of Americans support the idea of a “third major party” and would consider voting for non-duopoly candidates for political office.

Yet every other November, the vast majority of non-duopoly candidates go down to defeat. A few win local office. Even fewer become state legislators. Bona fide independent or third party governors, US Representatives and US Senators are rarities. And the next US president who isn’t a Republican or Democrat will be the first since those two parties coalesced into their current forms in the mid-19th century.

Why? Well, for one thing, those two major parties control access to election ballots. And they use that control to make it as difficult and expensive as possible for third party and independent candidates to even offer themselves as alternatives.

Prior to 1884, printed ballots were provided to voters by political parties and candidates. Those voters were also free to write out their own ballots by hand if they didn’t vote “straight party ticket.” Between 1884 and 1991, the states adopted the “Australian ballot” — a uniform ballot printed at government expense.

Standardized, one-size-fits all ballots, of course, have to come with rules. And guess who gets to make those rules? The two ruling parties, of course. Over time they have sewn up their “duopoly” with increasingly draconian restrictions.

In most states, Democratic and Republican nominees for office appear on the ballot automatically or nearly automatically. Third party and independent candidates might be allowed to run as well, if they spend lots of money collecting petition signatures — money which then becomes unavailable for their actual campaigns.

“Top two” proponents seek to tighten the screws even further and eliminate any chance whatsoever that a third party or independent candidate without, say, the personal wealth of a Ross Perot, might “spoil” the election of one of the establishment candidates, or even surge to victory.

They refer to their systematic diminution of voter choice, with straight faces, as “democracy.”

The rest of us refer to it as “rigging America’s elections.”

If voters want real political choice, it’s time to start voting for candidates who support free and fair elections … while the duopolists still allow us to.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Abolitionism Was, and Still Is, No Failure

RGBStock.com Rainbow WorldHistorian Jon Grinspan argues (“Was Abolitionism a Failure?” New York Times, February 1) against modern-day activists, from the Heritage Foundation’s Jim DeMint to MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who view abolitionism as a successful movement worth emulating. Grinspan credits slavery’s end not to abolitionists’ unbending ideals but to “the flexibility of … moderates.” Slavery died because its advocates were even less willing to compromise.

But all new ideas are the work of extremists. There’s no need to preemptively tone them down; that will happen with their implementation anyway. The Libertarian Party’s call for “the cessation of state oppression and harassment of homosexual men and women, that they, at last, be accorded their full rights as individuals” was extremist in 1976.

The unmatched sea change in views on gay rights since then was in spite of the realpolitik of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Voltairine de Cleyre summed up pre-Civil War attempts to impede slavery by political compromise as “one long record of ‘how-not-to-do-it.'” For both issues, the reshaping would, in Yale lawyer Charles Reich’s phrase, “originate with the individual and with culture, and … change the political structure only as its final act.”

Grinspan points out the slaveholders’ many strategic mistakes. But an abolitionist victory by default would have been Pyrrhic in the long run. Instead, they led a permanent shift in the range of acceptable public views.  Only thus could they put an institution granted respectability for millennia into the dustbin of history. To Grinspan, the sheer range of causes likened to abolitionism — DeMint’s Tea Party; Hayes’ climate change — is proof that such invoking is devoid of content. But the impact of abolitionism is visible: All those causes frame themselves as liberation movements. Slavery was unabashedly authoritarian.

The Liberty Party was the most uncompromising abolitionist political party. Grinspan notes its vote-getting was anemic. Yet it became the core around which dissidents from the mainstream Whig and Democratic parties formed the more successful Free Soil Party (whose slogan “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men” shows the natural interlock of liberations).

Grinspan downplays the main abolitionist publication, William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, because its circulation was less than 3,000. That happens to be the number of copies of the first edition of Karl Marx’s Capital sold in Russia. Garrison’s unyielding advocacy for full abolition forestalled Free Soil’s dissipation. The party in turn formed the basis for the Republican Party of Lincoln.

As Murray Rothbard explained, abolitionism is not just of “antiquarian interest.” Since “there are a great many analogues to slavery today … similar alternatives will have to be faced once more.” And similar tactics remain the most effective way to face them.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).