Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Independents are Better Off With More Than Two Choices on the November Ballot

By Richard Winger

Thanks to Nancy Hanks for giving me a one-time shot to explain why I oppose California's Proposition 14, the "top-two open primary."

The United States desperately needs political leaders who are committed to new ideas for solving our problems, and who are more interested in advancing those new ideas than they are to just advancing their own personal political career. We need someone, or an entire group, to run for office on a platform that explains why, in their opinion, a single-payer system is the answer to health care. We need someone, or an entire group, to run for office on a platform that make its best case for why the United States faces financial ruin if it doesn't sharply cut back on spending on war. We need someone, or an entire group, to run for office on a platform to make the case that marijuana prohibition must stop. We need someone, or an entire group, to run for office while making their best case for altering the dominance of the Federal Reserve in our banking system.

In democratic countries all over the world, when a leader, or a group, is determined to persuade society that it's time for a particular change in social policy, the traditional way to do that is to form a political party committed to that idea. The party's candidates then campaign to persuade people that their particular idea is a good one. Parties are the means by which ordinary people can organize, come together, and work for particular changes.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the ability of people to organize into a new political party and take their case to the voters has been trampled upon. Exclusion into the presidential debates, restrictive ballot access laws, and discriminatory campaign finance laws have all severely injured this road to social progress. But, significant progress against discriminatory campaign finance laws and restrictive ballot access laws is being made. A federal court in Connecticut recently ruled that public funding of campaigns must not discriminate against independent candidates. Ballot access for independent candidates for president is substantially easier than it was in the 1960's and 1970's. We haven't made any headway yet against the locked-down presidential debates, but that doesn't mean we never will.

Proposition 14, the "top-two open primary", has already been tried in two states, Washington (in 2008) and Louisiana (used for Congress 1978-2006, and state office ever since 1975). We know what happens in that system. In Washington, in 2008, for the first time since Washington became a state, there were no independent or minor party candidates on the November ballot for Congress and statewide state office. In Louisiana, no minor party member has ever qualified for the second round. That is why independents, or independent-minded people, who have been elected to important office, such as Ron Paul, Lowell Weicker, Jesse Ventura, and John Anderson, are opposed to a system that leaves just two candidates on the November ballot. New parties, representing movements, can't get a foothold in a system that allows only two candidates on the November ballot.

I believe that it is very desirable that independents be allowed to vote in major party primaries. My opposition to Proposition 14 is not because I am opposed to letting independents vote in major party primaries.

Richard Winger is a leading ballot access expert and is founder and editor of Ballot Access News.

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