CHALLENGING THE ELECTORAL LOCKDOWN
[NO COPYRIGHT, publish and forward freely]
Readers of Open Letter,
I am a dues-paying member of both the Socialist and Green parties. And
no, I will not be voting for Obama in 2012. The usual apocalyptic warnings
will ring out in the presidential campaign, used by both Republicans and
Democrats to silence dissent and mobilize their own loyalists. But most
people reading this message have already broken from the two-party system in
favor of real democracy.
I am fifty-six years old, and I’ve been hearing these apocalyptic
appeals in regular campaign cycles all my life. The practical political
result has not been (contrary to career Democrats) any growth in
“pragmatism” in public policy, but the actual undermining of both democracy
and the American republic. Of course the world has changed, but politically
this country has also been thrown backwards into the politics of the late
1970s, when the far right was gaining ground. Is that an argument to vote
for the Democratic Party? Only if we deliberately deny memory, erase
history, and bludgeon ourselves with daily doses of MSNBC.
The big two corporate parties keep each other in big business. Those
parties require some semblance of “the consent of the governed” to wage
their wars– and to keep Wall Street gambling with our wages and pension
We do not consent. The career politicians keep telling us to make our
votes count. Let’s take them seriously, and vote against them.
The only way to make democracy is to take democracy into our own hands
and lives, and not just on big election days. But the electoral lockdown
does matter. All the more reason to make your vote count by causing as much
friction and resistance as possible. Not just to stop the far right, but to
advance economic justice, ecological sanity, and peace.
Politics is regional and local, not just national. So everything you
hold dear may have a better chance in your town or state with the Greens
rather than the Socialists– or with the Socialists rather than the Greens.
Be honest about local realities, and be ready ready to give a little
partisan ground for a common cause. In some cases and campaigns, Greens and
Socialists can work together in principled coalitions. No party should
submerge itself under the cover of some other party till kingdom come,
unless the goal is explicitly political fusion.
Scott McLarty answers “spoiler” charges against the Green Party very
ably, as well as making a larger and (to me) convincing argument about
building democracy from the foundation on upwards. (See his answer to
Michael McCarthy’s article, both below.)
There are all kinds of reasons to support insurgent campaigns against
the corporate parties, even in presidential races. But at the level of the
White House and Congress, the Supreme Court stacked the deck against us with
the Citizens United ruling. And in California, the net effect of Prop 14
will be that the Peace and Freedom Party and the Green Party will likely be
bounced from the ballot by 2014. In southern California, the Green Party is
riven by factions and is electorally null and void.
So there is a proposal for the Socialist Party and the Peace and
Freedom Party to make common cause (under the latter’s ballot line) in
running a socialist candidate. At this date, I remain agnostic on that
proposal, but neither is it my mission to oppose it. I am not convinced the
Socialist Party will build an independent base of members at a critical
stage in the growth of a local southern California chapter by hitching our
wagon to the ballot line of the Peace and Freedom Party. Especially given
objective legal constraints which have become much worse at both the state
and national levels.
This information should be out in public for the widest possible
discussion. That’s a challenge, reaching so many people in this small
country of Los Angeles– a megalopolis with a population larger than any
number of nations. And the challenge is bigger yet, since we need the widest
public discussion of electoral reform well beyond California, and in all
We do need to be strategic in how we spend our time, money and
organizing efforts. In some places, running a presidential candidate matters
simply in maintaining a ballot line– against all odds. But pushing a
boulder up a slippery slope is exactly where the corporate parties want
Greens and Socialists to remain, forever. That slope is steepest, of course,
in presidential campaigns.
The real long-term struggle is deep electoral reform, going beyond
instant run-off voting to proportional representation. That reform is indeed
radical, given the structural injustice of “the two-party system”– a system
which has no exclusive patent in public life and no textual foundation
whatsoever in the Constitution. Whatever choices we make in presidential
campaigns, our chances of making real change close to home are greatest in
local coalitions and in city councils.
If we get some lucky breaks and work hard, there may be more openings
for change at the level of state government politics. Can we change the
agenda of presidential campaign forums, or even try to get a candidate of
peace, justice, and ecological sanity into the debates? In 2012? I don’t
know, but we do know we can’t compete with their corporate budgets or
magically reverse rulings of the Supreme Court.
Think globally, act locally. For real.
Not one cent and not one vote for the parties of war and empire.
Peace & solidarity,
Making U.S. Politics Safe for Third Parties
By Michael McCarthy
The Globalist, August 16, 2011
At a time of immense disgust with Washington, the calls for a viable
third-party presidential bid in 2012 are growing louder. However, the
spoiler effect would likely cause such an effort to end in disaster. Michael
McCarthy, The Globalist’s managing editor, argues that instead of fielding
candidates next year, third parties and their supporters should spearhead
structural reforms to make the U.S. political system safe for future
In a July ABC News/Washington Post poll
), nearly 80% of Americans described themselves as ³angry² or ³dissatisfied²
with how Washington works. The last time this figure was as high, in 1992,
Ross Perot captured 19% of the presidential popular vote running as an
Predictably, the calls have grown louder for a centrist, non-ideological
third party to effect the fiscal and political changes the United States
desperately needs. Most prominently, New York Times columnist Thomas
Friedman recently hyped a well-funded centrist group called Americans Elect
that will select its 2012 presidential nominee via an Internet convention
and is seeking ballot access in all 50 states.
It is joined by a raft of groups with similar aspirations, including the
Centrist Alliance. According to analysts who monitor third-party efforts,
many of these organizations are bankrolled by wealthy individuals keen to
break the Republican/Democrat duopoly.
The potential of third parties
Particularly at a time when the United States faces massive problems yet is
paralyzed by gridlock, it is tempting to view a viable third party as a
panacea. The prospect appears even more attractive considering that
throughout history, have benefited U.S. society enormously by spearheading
causes that were later adopted by at least one of the major parties.
The abolition of slavery, the creation of the 40-hour workweek, Social
Security and the elimination of child labor were all initially promoted by
third parties. So too were the election of U.S. senators by direct popular
vote and a graduated income tax. More recently, in his 1992 and 1996
presidential runs, Ross Perot focused the country¹s attention on deficits
and the national debt. By the end of Bill Clinton¹s presidency, the federal
government was running a budget surplus.
In their time, the agendas of most third parties were seen as far-fetched
and extreme. Today, however, many of their ideas are so commonplace they are
taken for granted.
The perils of third parties
On the other hand, due to the spoiler effect, third parties have the
potential to irreparably harm the causes they and their followers hold dear
‹ as most anybody who supported Ralph Nader in 2000 can tell you.
The Green Party candidate received more than 97,000 votes in Florida ‹ while
George W. Bush captured the state, and thus the presidency, by a mere 537
votes. Seeing as how the vast majority of his supporters would have
preferred Al Gore to be president over George W. Bush, Nader effectively
spoiled the election.
Similarly, it is not difficult to imagine a third-party candidacy by New
York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg drawing most of its votes from Barack
Obama in 2012, thereby delivering the presidency to the Republican nominee ‹
much to the chagrin of most of Bloomberg¹s hypothetical voters. Conversely,
a third-party bid by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a Tea Party
favorite, could take votes from the Republican Party¹s candidate and seal
President Obama¹s re-election.
Of course, it is possible that a third party would have no impact on the
outcome by receiving zero electoral votes and siphoning equal numbers of
votes from both major candidates, as did Ross Perot in 1992. Or perhaps two
third parties, one on each end of the spectrum, would negate each other.
Also possible is that a very well-funded, high-profile third-party candidate
could become president outright.
However, by far the most likely scenario would be a replay of Ralph Nader¹s
2000 run, which convincingly demonstrated that the U.S. political system is
not safe for third parties. Thus, rather than fielding candidates in 2012,
third-party efforts such as Americans Elect, and their wealthy backers,
would do well to push for structural reforms to the U.S. political system
that would eliminate the spoiler effect.
One promising reform
Arguably the most practical such reform would be to allocate each state¹s
electoral votes via instant runoff voting. According to FairVote.org, it is
used to elect the parliaments of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the
president of Ireland and the leaders of governments in cities such as
London; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; and San Francisco and Oakland,
As for how instant runoff voting would work on the U.S. presidential level,
imagine that in 2012, President Obama were to receive 35% of the popular
vote in California, compared with 40% for Republican Rick Perry and 25% for
independent Michael Bloomberg. Under the status quo, Perry would receive all
of California¹s 55 electoral votes, despite the fact that most voters in the
decidedly blue state would prefer Obama over Perry.
With instant runoff voting, each voter would rank the candidates, with the
typical Bloomberg voter ranking Bloomberg first, Obama second and Perry
third. When the votes are tallied and no candidate receives a majority, the
candidate with the fewest votes, in this example Bloomberg, would be
eliminated from contention, and his votes would be distributed in an
³instant runoff² to whom his supporters selected as their second choice.
Assuming that a sizable majority of Bloomberg¹s voters ranked Obama second,
Obama would win the majority of the state¹s popular vote and capture all of
the state¹s electoral votes.
If enacted in all 50 states, instant runoff voting would ensure that the
outcome of the election reflects the will of the people. No longer would
third parties effectively deny victory to the candidate with the most
The need for electoral reform
Instant runoff voting is but one possible reform that would allow third
parties to safely field candidates ‹ and permit voters to safely support
them ‹ without fear of acting as spoilers. This could do much to inject new
ideas into the political discourse and pressure the two major parties to
break the gridlock that is slowly destroying the country.
Unfortunately, the odds are precisely nil that well-funded groups like
Americans Elect or prospective third-party candidates will drop their White
House ambitions in favor of focusing on the nuts and bolts of the U.S.
However, unless they lead the charge to make the U.S. political system safe
for third parties, they risk setting back their causes by years, if not
generations, by handing the presidency on a silver platter to candidates and
parties they vehemently oppose.
* * *
[Note to Open Letter readers: The response below is from Scott McLarty,
Media Coordinator for the Green Party of the United States.-- Scott Tucker]
Pundits and Democratic Party apologists have hammered Ralph Nader and the
Green Party with the spoiler accusation since 2000, but George W. Bush
ultimately entered the White House in January 2001 for two unrelated
(1) Election manipulation and vote obstruction, mostly targeting black
voters, by Florida GOP officials, with a typically weak response from Al
Gore and his fellow Democrats (e.g., calling for a recount in only three
counties instead of the entire state), all of which culminated in a patently
biased Supreme Court ruling that handed Bush the presidency. The US Senate
voted unanimously in January 2001 to confirm Bush’s election.
(2) Gore was such an uninspiring candidate that millions of Democratic
voters decided to vote for Bush. In Florida the number of registered Dems
who voted for Bush was four times the number of Dems who voted for Nader.
Any mention of the Nader-Green role in the 2000 election outcome that
doesn’t also take into account these factors should be considered dishonest.
In 2004, after election irregularities by GOP officials in Ohio and possibly
other states, John Kerry and Democratic leaders conceded quickly, while
Green presidential nominee David Cobb and Libertarian nominee Michael
Badnarik responded immediately to complaints and organized investigations in
Ohio and New Mexico — with nearly zero assistance from Democratic
politicians. An exception was Rep. Conyers, who held hearings and published
a report on the 2004 election irregularities
/references/house_judiciary/final_status_report.pdf). Eventually, two
Republican election operatives were convicted in Cuyahoga County. (For a
recent update, see http://freepress.org/departments/display/19/2011/4239)
It’s quite likely that Republicans are preparing strategies to rig the 2012
election. (Which states will they target this time?) Unfortunately, many
progressives have found it easier to succumb to Spoiler Panic and to vilify
third parties than to deal with the corruption of our election system. One
would think that, since 2000 and the persistent participation of
alternatives like the Green Party, Democrats would enact Instant Runoff
Voting, but with a few exceptions they’ve simply ignored the matter.
We can only conclude that Democratic politicians would rather suffer defeat
by Republicans than suffer the presence of Greens and other alternative
parties. In fact, Democrats and Republicans in many states have backroom
agreements to limit the field to two parties, with ballot access rules on
the books that privilege the two established parties and impose
prohibitively difficult requirements for other parties and independents.
Pennsylvania is a good example: in the 2006 and 2008 statewide elections
(presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial), Democratic and Republican
candidates were required to hand in about 2,000 valid ballot petition
signatures. Candidates from other parties and independents were required,
under Pa. law, to hand in at least 67,000 signatures. Of course, any
candidate must raise far in excess of those numbers in order to stave off
challenges to the validity of the signatures. (It doesn’t stop there — read
this article about how the Pa. Democratic Party machine has further
Unfortunately, such outrages, which include the barring of third-party and
independent candidates from debates, seldom draw discussion in the media.
For an election to have any democratic integrity, voters must have the right
to vote for whichever candidate represents their interests and ideals, even
if that candidate isn’t on the ballot line of one of the two Titanic Parties
(as we in the Green Party like to call the Ds and Rs).
(NB: I work as media coordinator for the Green Party of the United States,
http://www.gp.org . — Scott McLarty)