American media seldom pay much attention to “third” political parties like the Libertarians and the Greens. They get footnotes in normal election coverage, with one exception: Sometimes someone weird shows up on a slow news day. Then it’s suddenly time to cover third parties.
Enter Augustus Sol Invictus, a declared candidate for US Senate from Florida, who plans to run on the Libertarian Party’s ballot line. You may have seen his name in your social media or news feed. He’s “trending.”
Invictus named himself after an ancient Roman sun god. He allegedly sacrificed a goat in the western desert somewhere. As an attorney, he’s defended white supremacist clients and some people believe that’s no coincidence. He’s supposedly called for civil war, mandatory eugenics programs and all kinds of other crazy, and definitely not Libertarian, stuff. [Disclosure: I am a Libertarian candidate for Congress from Florida too; I have never sacrificed a goat, don’t associate with white supremacists, and support neither civil war nor eugenics]
The Libertarian Party of Florida’s executive committee censured Invictus and disassociated their party from him on Sunday. His views, they say, are not theirs — which should be obvious, but some things do have to be explicitly said, not just assumed.
And yet, there’s actually a possibility that he’ll show up on Florida primary ballots as a candidate for the Libertarian US Senate nomination. If so, and if he wins, the Florida LP is stuck with him as their standard-bearer.
It shouldn’t be that way. And at one time it wasn’t.
Until the late 19th century, American government didn’t print ballots, nor did it control the internal affairs of political parties. Voters cast ballots printed and provided by their parties of choice, or hand-wrote (or, if they couldn’t write, verbally swore to an election official) their ballots.
Starting in the 1880s, the states adopted the “Australian ballot.” Because government printed these ballots, government got to choose which candidates appeared on them. From that, a system of rules evolved which incorporated two express purposes: Keeping “third parties” off ballots with restrictive access laws, and robbing them of the ability to choose their own candidates, if they did manage to wangle ballot access, by forcing them into primary elections instead of nominations by convention.
All of this came about in the name of “reform,” to “take political decisions out of the smoke-filled rooms.” But that’s where the decisions are still made by the Democrats and Republicans. These restrictive laws don’t affect them nearly as much. Their party establishments are large, entrenched and powerful; they’re usually able to direct the voters instead of vice versa. It’s the third parties who get stuck with the weirdos. And with the media coverage that the weirdos bring.
A major step in real political reform would be to ditch the “Australian ballot” and its associated restrictions, returning to freedom of association for voters, candidates and political parties.
Florida’s Libertarians should be free to bury Caesar, rather than potentially forced to seemingly praise him.
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.
- “Slow News Days and Third Party Politics: Attack of the Goat-Sacrificing Roman Sun God!” by Thomas L. Knapp, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, 10/05/15