The traditional Labor Day kick-off of the political season is almost here, but the fall campaign will get underway without any minor party or independent candidates on the ballot for statewide offices. This is because the nomination papers of all such candidates were successfully challenged by the two major political parties, resulting in the withdrawal by the independent candidates from races for governor and U.S. Senator.
This situation has become something of a biannual event in Penn’s Woods. Republicans and Democrats alike cling to the theory that minor party or independent candidates of their ideological bent can siphon off enough votes to prevent their nominee from winning in the November election. This myth persists despite the fact that it has never happened.
Even in 1994, when Peg Luksik ran on the Constitution Party ticket and garnered 460,000 votes – the best showing ever by a minor party candidate – Republican Tom Ridge still prevailed in the General Election besting the Democratic nominee, Mark Singel. This happened despite the fact Constitution Party voters are significantly more likely to vote Republican rather than Democratic when those are the only two choices.
The irrational fear the two major parties hold when it comes to sharing ballot access was fed by the 2000 Presidential election. That election came down to the electoral votes of one state, Florida, and was the subject of prolonged litigation and recounts. In Florida, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader polled more votes than Democrat Al Gore lost by, thus kicking the state’s electoral votes – and the election – to Republican George W. Bush. That election has fed the major party’s paranoia over multi-candidate general elections.
That paranoia has lead to some shady activities. In 2006 Democrats, fearing Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli could derail Robert P. Casey, Jr.’s bid for a U.S. Senate seat, challenged and bumped him from the ballot. Casey went on to defeat incumbent Rick Santorum by 18%, proving their fears unfounded. Worse, the Bonusgate scandal uncovered alleged improper use by the Democrats of state House employees to check petition signatures and to assist in the challenge against Romanelli.
This year challenges were filed against all minor party and independent statewide candidates. Republicans bumped the Libertarian Party and so-called TEA party candidates off the ballot; Democrats scarred off the Green Party candidate. There is some evidence to indicate the TEA party candidate was not really a TEA party activist, but that is another matter entirely.
The point here is that Republicans and Democrats alike are working hard to limit the number of choices put before voters. In a year when polls show the electorate is fed up with both political parties, this drive to deprive minor party and independent party candidates ballot access feeds voter anger.
It all boils down to a simple matter of fairness. America is a nation founded on the principle of competition. By limiting competition we limit debate and discussion, we limit choice, and we limit voter interest. This is one of the reasons why our Founding Fathers argued against the establishment of political parties. George Washington argues that parties: " . . . serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community." Washington further observed that parties resulted in the "ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather then . . . consistent and wholesome plans . . . modified by mutual interests."
We need look no further than the nation’s capital today to see the ill effects of party rule. Legislation opposed by a majority of the electorate, such as health care reform, is enacted based on the ideological drive of one political party. This is exactly the type of situation President Washington warned against.
Meanwhile, here in Pennsylvania the problems with ballot access stem from state laws that make it extraordinarily difficult for minor party and independent candidates to qualify. Signature requirements are onerous, set at levels designed to discourage candidates from trying – and to make it easier to challenge their petitions when the do. State Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) has introduced the Voter’s Choice Act to encourage competition and to make the ballot more accessible. That legislation has languished in a legislature comprised of only Republicans and Democrats.
A legislative remedy would come too late for the current field of minor party and independent candidates. But, the chairmen of the two major political parties could jointly agree to cease any behind-the-scenes efforts to force candidates off the ballot. This would have the effect of restoring some much needed integrity to the two major parties, and give Pennsylvanians greater choice at the polls this November.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])