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Salt Lake Tribune

Election reflections from the Libertarian fringe

By J. Robert Latham

November 20, 2004

Utah's voters spoke earlier this month, mostly for the Republicans and Democrats on the ballot. But enough voters spoke for Libertarian candidates in 2004 to keep us on Utah's ballot in 2006. Thank you for allowing us to continue participating in the conversations that shape public policy.

Despite this progress, some organizations maintained their policy of apartheid toward candidates affiliated with non-incumbent political parties. (I prefer "non-incumbent party" to "third party.")

For example, although Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his Democratic challenger Greg Skordas didn't object, KUED television wouldn't allow Libertarian challenger Andrew McCullough to join their debate.

Similarly, KBYU television kept Libertarian 3rd Congressional District candidate Jim Dexter out of its debate for that race, despite Rep. Chris Cannon's request to include him.

The existing "winner-take-all" electoral system in the United States makes it incredibly difficult, although not impossible, for any non-incumbent party to receive more than single-digit support in a race contested by the two incumbent parties. Political scientists call this loaded-dice effect "Duverger's Law."

Unfortunately, as many political scientists have observed, the winner-take-all system is not only dangerously polarizing American citizens, but also orphaning "blue" voters in "red" states and counties. And vice versa.

One alternative is to change the rules we use to elect our representatives from a winner-take-all system to a "full representation" electoral system, beginning at the local level. Under that system, representatives are elected from multi-seat districts in proportion to the number of votes received. It assures that political parties or candidates will have the percent of legislative seats that reflects their public support. A party or candidate need not come in first to win seats.

Full representation systems, had they been invented prior to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, would almost certainly have been adopted by the Founding Fathers to elect members to the House of Representatives because, to quote John Adams, they create "in miniature, an exact portrait of the people at large."

Some argue that the political process shouldn't be opened too much, lest undesirable individuals get a seat at the table. Faced with the choice, which would you rather have Timothy McVeigh sitting on your City Council? Or sitting outside your City Council building in a Ryder truck?

If the party of Lincoln, Bush and Huntsman genuinely wants to reach out to the rest of us, its members should level the political playing field by transforming America's and Utah's two-party system into something akin to the multi-party representative democracies in which Afghanis and Iraqis will soon participate.

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