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Progressive Values in an Election Season

Third party politics and ballot access explained. Ideas and thoughts relevant to the 2016 Presidential Election (ie: Jill Stein v. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump v. Gary Johnson.)

From the 2007 archives: Why progressives should support third party energy.

Progressive Values in an Election Season

by Kimberly Wilder

If you are a progressive, you probably think of yourself as having a high sense of ethics. You probably care about justice and fairness. You probably believe in carefully guarding people’s freedoms and people’s civil rights.

Why do so many progressives throw these values out the window when it comes time for campaign season?

There are many progressives who have stood idly by while major parties or major party politicians do things such as:

  • Write unfair ballot access laws
  • Support and defend unfair ballot access laws
  • Play unfair strategy games to block other candidates from ballot access
  • Create arguments that stifle another candidate’s right to free speech and right to run
  • Create arguments to vilify other candidates as expressing what gets treated as “heretic dissent” to the lead contender for the Democratic ticket

Progressives would not accept these behaviors and attitudes from government. Progressives would, under usual circumstances, despise incumbent politicians who exhibited these behaviors.

So, why do progressives allow for these behaviors when election times rolls around, and there is a Democratic Party candidate who believes he or she deserves to win at all costs?

My Right and Your Right to Run for Office 

Kimberly at the BOE: 11/08/2010

Kimberly at the BOE: 11/08/2010

I am someone who is a humble citizen–who has never had a paid, political job; who is working class; and who has dreams of peace on earth and justice for all–who has tried to run for office myself. Having had the desire to be a candidate, I have experienced whole-heartedly that being allowed to run for office is my right, as much as my right to vote and my right to free speech. If I am not allowed to be a candidate on the ballot, then I am not a full member of this democracy. There should not be a separation between myself and the people who run and serve in government. Otherwise, we are not all equal. Otherwise, it is not a true democracy.

There are principles and case law that uphold the vision that, in a democracy, citizens must have a right to run for office.  In a New York court, a decision Mirrington v. Vandermark (51 Misc. 2d 305 (Niagra 1966),  states that,“In a representative form of government, it is essential that the courts protect a citizen’s right to vote and his correlative right to be a candidate for office.” It is the usual structure of any organization or government, that if you are a voting member/citizen, you are allowed to run for office.

When a state government sets up unfair ballot access laws, they are truly impeding on a person’s basic rights in a democracy. Running for office is not a privilege. It is clearly, a right. So, to get on the ballot should not be an impossible, or nearly impossible hurdle. Getting on the ballot is not supposed to be something that you must buy at a high cost, or need a lawyer to help you accomplish. Getting on the ballot should, and must, be something attainable by every citizen who sincerely wishes to run and to serve.

When I ran for office, I ran into horribly unfair ballot access laws. In my state, as in many others, there are different criteria for major party candidates, for third party candidates, and for independents. It should not be the case that a citizen’s decision to belong or not belong to a certain party takes away one of her basic rights.

Unfair and Astronomically High Signature Requirements

NY State 2008 Presidential Ballot

NY State 2008 Presidential Ballot

In New York, as in other states, laws about signature requirements to run for office are created by the Democrat and Republican controlled State Legislature. For each office, the formula for how many signatures required means that Democrats and Republicans must collect far fewer signatures than independent candidates. (And, while official “third parties” have it easier, it is very difficult to become a third party, especially if you are a third party that won’t cross endorse the major parties.) So, when I tried to run for State Senate, I needed to collect 3,000 signatures, while the major parties would only need 1,000 signatures to run in the same race. That is simply unfair.

Richard Winger, editor and publisher of Ballot Access News, has stated, “The extreme disparity of the burdens placed on old, established parties versus new parties has no parallel in any other democratic nation in the world. Indeed, the number of signatures required for Democrats and Republicans to get on primary ballots is itself too high in some states, and as a result about 25% of all state legislative races present the voter with only one candidate on the general election ballots.” (The Importance of Ballot Access” by Richard Winger, reprinted from Long Term View, Spring 1994.)

As progressives, we would not usually approve of such hurdles to the exercise of our freedom. As progressives, we would usually fight against something that is clearly impinging on our civil rights.

Though, there is no, great outcry about unfair ballot access laws.

Ralph Nader and Elections

And, in fact, one of the champions of the ballot access cause has been Ralph Nader. He has tried to show people a variety of ways that the two major parties have blocked citizen’s from participating fairly in democracy. And, Nader has run for office himself, partly as a model and trailblazer to show the injustice of the system and the injustice of current ballot access laws.

And, instead of recognizing  mission, many progressives have attacked Ralph Nader. But, they have not simply attacked Nader, they have further attacked his right to run for office, by applying all sorts of arguments and strategies, that those same progressives would find odious if done by government to any other citizen.

Some Democrats believe (I think wrongly) that blocking other progressive candidates from the ballot will keep more votes for their Democratic nominee. That means that people who believe that they are in the more progressive party, also think that it is worth allowing for and celebrating unjust laws and tactics, to help their team have an edge in a competition.

That is just morally wrong.

And, it is also foolish for the overall goal of progressives. Because having the ability to create third parties is one way that the grassroots can bring progressive issues into the political discourse. Unfair ballot access laws, and individual, collective and governmental attacks on the right of third party candidates to run stops important issues from appearing on the ballot with a party who champions those issues. Harming the electoral ability of third parties stifles grassroots movements and movements for social justice.

At the 2007 Green Party Annual National Meeting, Nader noted:

“Historically, the great ideas that have animated social justice and driven it to some sort of success in our country, have all come from 3rd parties. And, aren’t we glad that ballot access barriers were much lower in the 19th century than they are today, much less obstructive?

Because, that allowed the Liberty Party, the Anti-slavery Party, the Women’s Right to Vote Party, the Labor Party, the Populist Party, the Farmer Party to get on the ballot.” – Ralph Nader

I would also like to believe that as progressives, we could be as fair as our somewhat conservative court system. In the matter of Collins v. Heffernan, in the Supreme Court of New York, it refers to another case,  Lefkowitz v. Cohen, to state that “The courts have hesitated in depriving a citizen from being a candidate in a primary or general election.”

If the courts hesitate to deprive a citizen of their right to run for office, why would we, as progressive citizens, want to do anything to deprive a fellow citizen of running for office?

Some people in the media, and some people in the Democratic Party, have so slandered Nader, it is difficult to hold him up as an example. It is probably difficult to identify with him. But, truly, just as I was oppressed when I had to face unfair signature requirements and a challenge by the local Board of Elections, Nader is oppressed when he has to meet the unfair ballot access requirements many states hold out for non-major party presidential candidates. But, let’s put Nader aside for a moment, and look at another right.

You, as a citizen, have a right to nominate candidates to run for office.

So, if there are unfair ballot access laws, then it is difficult or impossible for you to have the right to place on the ballot candidates who you believe in and want to vote for. There is an explanation of this right in case law from New York State. In the matter of Hopper v. Britt, the case law shows that, “Section 1 of article I of the Constitution of the State of New York provides that ‘[no] member of this state shall be disenfranchised’. Where a statute amounts to an unnecessary or unreasonable restraint on the freedom to nominate candidates it is in conflict with the Constitution.”

Summary

It is frustrating that otherwise well-meaning progressives can stand by and just watch while a candidate like Nader struggles to get on the ballot. And, somehow, if that progressive has already decided that they are betting on whichever Democrat wins the convention, they can ignore Nader’s struggle, or even come out against Nader. At some point, if we are to be sincere, if we are to guard our own rights from erosion, we have to look past Nader and his, personal situation, and see that by denying and attacking Nader, we are more importantly denying the fundamental right of all of Nader’s supporters to put someone on the ballot who they wish to vote for.

Even if a citizen belongs to a third party, it should not be difficult for her to choose a candidate whom she would like to place on the ballot. If a citizen belong to a third party, or if he gets together with independent citizens in his town for a certain cause, he should be able to choose a candidate who represents his wishes, and have that candidate placed on the ballot.

If we were at the meeting of a local organization, or a board meeting, would we praise measures to block people from nominating candidates? I do not believe we would find that democratic or fair.

If we were aware that a local candidate debate was going to exclude an independent, third party, or even write-in candidate, would we encourage that exclusion? Many of us have probably spoken up for including all candidates.

Even during campaign season, even when we think we know which seemingly progressive candidate has the best chance of winning, progressives need to slow down and respect the democratic process. We need to respect the right of every candidate to run. We need to respect the right of every citizen to place someone on the ballot who they wish to nominate.

Richard Winger notes, “In order to keep our political system healthy, we must once again allow people the freedom to vote for the qualified candidate of their choice. Such freedom is not only essential to the health of our government but also to our right as citizens of the United States.”

Progressives must guard the right to ballot access as fiercely as they guard other civil rights. Progressives should look beyond the superficial strategy of guarding their turf against third party candidates, and apply the values of democracy, ballot choice and fair play during election season. The reason to hold onto our progressive values, even during election season, is that it matters to every citizen who votes, to every citizen who wishes to run for office, and to the health of every movement for social justice.

_____________________________________________

Related and Up-To-The-Minute for the 2016 Presidential Campaign:
Message from a Jill Stein supporter to reluctant Hillary Clinton supporters

 

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