for Political Dirty Tricks
July 24, 2004
Competition, economists say, eventually brings the greatest
benefits to consumers. Republican and Democratic
functionaries, though, don't want free-market rivalries
extended to politics, even if voters end up with a greater
range of choices and representation
Judging by the battles independent candidate Ralph Nader
and the Libertarian and Green parties are fighting to get on
the presidential ballot in various states, the major political
parties want no more than two competitors on their playing
fields -- unless an exception improves their chances of
"Both the Democratic and Republican party operatives
are playing games with ballot access in Oregon,"
political analyst Jim Moore of Pacific University said this
week. Groups such as Citizens for a Sound Economy, allied with
President Bush's re-election campaign, worked to get their
members out to support getting Nader on the ballot.
Democrats countered by sabotaging Nader backers' efforts to
get him on the ballot via 1,000 people in a convention signing
a petition. A Democratic Party official's e-mail read:
"We need as many Oregon Democrats as possible to fill
that room and to NOT sign that petition." State election
officials, he argued, would have to close the doors once 1,000
voters were in the room. "If we attend in large numbers
and politely refuse to sign, Nader is denied his needed
numbers." The result: only 950 valid signatures, 50 too
Tawdry tactics make it inviting to consider reforms. One
would be to lower, greatly, the current number of signatures
needed for parties (18,000) and candidates (15,000) to get on
the ballot. There is no instance in which a 5,000-signature
standard has put more than eight candidates on the ballot,
says Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News. The U.S.
Supreme Court in 1968 said (Williams v. Rhodes) that eight
candidates should not be so many as to cause voter confusion.
Another possible reform, instant runoffs, could largely
solve the problem of no candidate's gaining a majority owing
to the large number of contenders on the ballot. Instant
runoffs come in various flavors, but the basic idea is that
voters put a "1" next to their first choice, a
"2" next to a second selection and so on until the
voter doesn't want to designate anyone else as a fallback
When no one gets a majority, election officials look again
at ballots of the candidate who came in last and reassign
those voters' No. 2 choices to those candidates. This
continues until the issue is settled. San Francisco voters
will begin using instant runoffs in November for city races.
Other reforms, full representation and cumulative voting,
give independent and minority interests a chance to have a
voice in bodies that now are dominated by winner-take-all
The Center for Voting and Democracy discusses these and
other reforms at its Web site (www.fairvote.org/pr/index.html).
As the major parties resort to dirty tricks, the reform ideas
make for provocative reading.