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Third Parties

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Published: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 21:56:00 -0400


Death of a Clown

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 12:50:00 -0400

The story was all over the news this week: The great clown Bozo is dead. This may have confused those of you who remember Bozo the Clown dying in 2008, or in 1997, or in 1994, or in 1991, or even (for you oldtimers) in 1967. A lot of men have played Bozo over the years, and the only one who's even arguably more famous than the character is Willard Scott. In this case the dead clown is Frank Avruch, who let the spirit of Bozo possess him on Boston's WHDH-TV from 1959 to 1970. The fact that more than one performer played Bozo isn't odd in itself; we're used to seeing different actors take on such roles as Batman, Romeo, Sherlock Holmes, Santa Claus, Abraham Lincoln, and other figures from our shared cultural mythology. What's strange, looking back from 2018, is that there was a time when dozens of cities all had their own Bozos, each playing the same character in a separate locally produced show. Some programs are syndicated; Bozo was franchised. (Technically, it was both: Avruch's version of the series was eventually aired on other stations as well, so a town without a clown of its own could still have a Bozo show.) One of those Bozos ran for president. Yes, I know: Lots of bozos have run for president, and some of them have won. But Larry Harmon, the harlequin who bought Bozo's licensing rights in the 1950s and then decided to let a hundred TV clowns bloom, decided to toss his nose into the ring in 1984, running for the White House as the nominee of the Bozo Party. The Washington Post covered his announcement: Addressing an assemblage of 55 reporters and photographers at the National Press Club, Harmon, or Bozo, as he prefers to be called, warned of the arms race, the burgeoning national debt, and pledged "a few steps backward" to correct the major ills of the nation. The press, which over the years has seen dark-horse candidates for office prove successful, sat for 25 minutes without the least smile, until a reporter grinned for no discernible reason. The video below begins with a bland Today Show interview with Harmon that touches briefly on his campaign; at the 4:37 mark it cuts to footage from a far livelier campaign rally at Columbia University, featuring a punk band called the Nasty Bozos: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Harmon was a write-in candidate and not every state reports its write-in ballots, so it is unclear how many votes he received. But he got at least 21. I'll wrap up with a story about another late Bozo. 2007 saw the death of Ward McIntyre, who for six years served as the Bozo of Birmingham, Alabama. A poster at Democratic Underground (remember Democratic Underground?) reacted with this reminiscence: I first met Ward when I was in my late teens and working as a 'gofer' for a local ad agency....About 10 years later Bozo had come to local TV. It wasn't one of my favorite shows but it came on right before the evening news. So sometimes I'd catch the last few minutes. I knew most of the local broadcasters and Bozo sounded somewhat familiar, but I just couldn't quite place the voice. The character used kind of a raspy falsetto. One evening I bumped into Ward at a downtown watering hole. He waved me over to his table. I sat down, got a drink, and we chatted about this and that. And then it hit me. I looked at him and grinned. "BOZO!" A pained look came across his face. "Shhhhh. If you tell anybody I'll have to kick your ass!" Being Bozo was SO totally against his image. It had been a closely held secret. Hence the weird voice he used. I guess the money was good, though. And I never told. Until now. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)[...]

Libertarian Plays Spoiler in Close Pennsylvania Special Election

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 09:30:00 -0400

Libertarian congressional candidate Drew Gray Miller may have played spoiler in Pennsylvania's down-to-the-wire special election last night. Just after midnight, with all precincts reporting in the 18th district and some absentee ballots still being counted, Democratic candidate and former county prosecutor Conor Lamb had a 579-vote lead over the Republican, state Rep. Rick Saccone (R–Allegheny). Lamb declared victory early this morning, but Saccone has not yet conceded. Meanwhile, Miller accumulated 1,372 votes—well more than the gap between the two major party candidates. As the race tightened around 10 p.m., Miller took to Twitter to relish his newfound status as the guy who would be blamed for costing someone the election: We're only a few hours away from me being the most hated man in America #PA18 — Drew Gray Miller (@DrewGrayMiller) March 14, 2018 Needless to say, Miller's 0.6 percent of the vote is not an outstanding showing. For comparison, Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson received 2.4 percent of the statewide vote in 2016 and garnered at least 1.8 percent in each of the four counties that make up the 18th congressional district. Johnson also covered the spread in the presidential election, as Trump carried Pennsylvania by 1.1 percent. Still, margins matter in close races. And this race was as close as they come. "No party is entitled to anybody's vote," Drew Bingman, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania, told Reason on Tuesday night. "Maybe next time the Republican Party might consider somebody a little more libertarian." Bingaman praised Lamb for running a smart campaign that at times eschewed the national Democratic Party's positions on issues like gun control. (Lamb's first campaign ad featured footage of him firing an AR-15 at a shooting range.) Bingaman was impressed that a candidate like Lamb can win in a district that, on paper at least, is stacked in the GOP's favor, and he took that as a welcoming sign for third-party candidates elsewhere. It took until late in the evening for CNN and several other media outlets to add Miller's name to their list of results. (He was the only other candidate in the race.) This happened only after it became clear that the Libertarian could cover the spread between the top two. The typical narrative emerged, that Miller had somehow cost Saccone the race: Drew Miller, the Libertarian, has more votes than Lamb's margin. He may have been the difference in the race. — David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) March 14, 2018 "It's a step forward as far as I'm concerned to be considered a spoiler," Bingaman said, noting that it brought increased visibility to the candidate and party after the media largely ignored Miller's campaign in the lead-up to the vote. Regardless of the reason for the outcome, Tuesday's result is certainly a disaster for Republicans. Trump won the district by 19 points in 2016. Outgoing Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned after an affair with a staffer became public, did not even face a Democratic opponent two years ago. Republicans made a bad result worse when they publicly bailed on their candidate in the final hours of the race. National GOP leaders dumped on Saccone to Politico and tried to pin an seemingly inevitable loss on his poor fundraising skills—as if money is the most important factor in a post-Trump political landscape—only to have Saccone come within a few hundred votes of victory. After Tuesday night, the top two candidates in the race will go their separate ways—literally. The 18th district was dissolved by the state Supreme Court in January, when it ruled Pennsylvania's congressional districts are an unconstitutional gerrymander. But those old lines were used for yesterday's special election, because it had already been scheduled. The new map, imposed by the state's high court (and subject to a challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court), splits the old 18th district into two new districts. Saccone resides in the new 14th district, and could run again for that seat in November. Lamb resides [...]

That Time the LaRouchies Won Two Primaries in Illinois

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 14:20:00 -0500

Arthur Jones, a man whose career includes a long stint in the National Socialist White People's Party, is on track to win the Republican nomination next month in Illinois' 3rd Congressional District. When this story first started attracting attention, some people added it to their list of signs that bigots are newly "emboldened" in the Trump era. But on closer examination, it turned out to be more of a sign that the Democrats have a stranglehold on the 3rd District: Jones is a perennial fringe candidate, and the only reason the old Nazi looks likely to actually win a primary this time is because he's the only candidate on the Republican side who bothered to sign up. That's the kind of thing that can happen in a race that one party is sure to lose. But this post isn't about Jones. It's about the déjà vu this story is giving me. It was in the same state, 32 years ago, that two followers of the proto-fascist crank Lyndon LaRouche managed to win the Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state. That time there were some other candidates on the primary ballot—George Sangmeister and Aurelia Pucinski, respectively. When Mark Fairchild and Janice Hart beat them, the most widespread theory had it that they won by having less "ethnic" names. Below you'll find a 1986 C-Span interview with Fairchild, the would-be lieutenant governor. Asked at the beginning if LaRouche runs an "anti-Semitic, hate-filled, neo-Nazi organization," Fairchild, who was 28 at the time, describes the charge as "pretty heavy-duty stuff" and denies it. He then goes on to discuss his platform, which among other things included quarantining AIDS patients and using the military to fight the war on drugs. The talk also turns to some of LaRouche's trademark conspiracy theories, including the notions that Henry Kissinger is secretly gay, that Walter Mondale is a KGB agent, and that the queen of England is a drug dealer. But the best moment comes at 51:20, when a caller reads a passage from the LaRouchie book Dope, Inc.: In the late 1940s, University of Chicago professor Milton Friedman was installed as President of the Gold Seal Liquor Company—the original Capone enterprise. Friedman soon also assumed the presidency of the Illinois Liquor Dealers Association—a position from which he no doubt carried out his first experiments in "free market economics." "My understanding," the caller remarks, "is that the Milton Friedman who headed Gold Seal Liquors is a totally different Milton Friedman than Milton Friedman the economist." For the record, the caller's understanding was correct. The Republicans wound up crushing the LaRouche Democrats. Meanwhile, Adlai Stevenson III, who had been set to be the Democratic nominee for governor, instead created a third party—the Solidarity Party—rather than share a ticket with Fairchild and Hart. The punchline: After Stevenson returned to the Democrats, the Solidarity Party and its ballot line were seized by a group whose cultist reputation rivaled the LaRouchies'—the New Alliance Party. And the New Alliance Party had been created by one Fred Newman, a former ally of a fellow named Lyndon LaRouche. Here is the full C-Span interview: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="512" height="330" frameborder="0"> (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. Dope, Inc. was co-authored by David Goldman, who after leaving the LaRouche movement started blogging under the name "Spengler"; to see what he's up to these days, go here.)[...]

GOP to Libertarian Legislator: Your It's a Wonderful Life Screening Is Against the Law

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 15:51:00 -0500

Could it be a crime to give your fellow Americans a chance to enjoy a theatrical screening of that modern American myth, It's a Wonderful Life?


The Nebraska Republican Party thinks it is. Or at least it thinks it of political benefit to say it is, in their quest to unseat one of America's few sitting Libertarian state legislators, state Sen. Laura Ebke.

Ebke switched her party allegiance from GOP to L.P. in 2016, and she's up for reelection as a Libertarian in 2018. The Republicans are running Al Riskowski, a man who formerly ran the Nebraska Family Alliance. That's a conservative activist group obsessed with the legalities of gambling, gender identity, suicide, and "human trafficking."

Ebke sponsored two screenings of the movie to celebrate the revival of a local theater in her hometown that had gone under when the switch to digital projection swept the industry. On Friday, the state GOP denounced the events in a press release. "Not only is Ebke in potential violation of state law herself for attempting to bribe voters," the email declared, "but she is also putting those who attend the screenings at risk of committing a violation as well."

By giving voters a free movie, the Republicans claim, Ebke is bribing voters. That's a class II misdemeanor under state law, punishable by six months in jail and a thousand-buck fine. And so is accepting such a bribe.

Undeterred, Ebke held two more screenings in other towns after the threat went out, and she has two more planned ahead.

In a phone interview today, Ebke says that "we read the rules" and that the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (NADC) "says that it's acceptable to use campaign contributions for social events for constituents." She notes that the governor does something comparable when he hosts tailgate parties.

"I consulted with my campaign treasurer, who is also an attorney, and he agreed. So we proceeded. When that email blast [from the state GOP] came out Friday, my first call was to the executive director of the NADC to make sure there wasn't something I was missing. He sort of laughed when I told him I was being accused of bribery. He said as long as there is no quid pro quo, that I'm not holding out popcorn until someone promised to vote for me," the shows are fine. Ebke says she isn't even talking politics at the screenings.

"It was a pretty desperate effort on the GOP's part," she concludes.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that the Republicans "are reviewing the situation to determine whether to pursue any legal action."

While Ebke says the Republicans have done no real messaging against her—this silly stunt is their first big public swing at her so far—the state GOP has taken the unusual step of sending the governor and lieutenant governor out on the stumps with Riskowski, presenting the message that Nebraska needs "more conservatives" in the legislature.

Ebke says neither she nor any constituent she's met takes this threat at all seriously, though she wouldn't put it past the GOP to go ahead and file some sort of complaint with the NADC. If they do, she's confident that it will go nowhere.

Bonus libertarian perspective: TV host Kennedy explains why she digs It's a Wonderful Life in libertarian terms.

71 Percent of Millennials Say U.S. Politics Needs a Third Major Party

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 11:41:00 -0500

(image) The Republicans are a mess. The Democrats are a mess. And young Americans are increasingly unsure about aligning themselves with either one.

New research from NBC News and the University of Chicago polling group GenForward found millennials—poised to be the biggest voting bloc in 2020—overwhelmingly want more political options. A full 71 percent of the 18- to 34-year-olds polled said that America needs a third major political party.

The desire for a third-party option was seen across all races, genders, and partisan affiliations in the poll, which was conducted from October 26 to November 10. Respondents included a nationally representative sample of 1,876 people.

More than half of those surveyed (59 percent) had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party, and 42 percent had an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party. (This is with an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.92 percentage points.) Only 5 percent had a "very favorable" view of Republicans and only 10 percent had a very favorable view of Democrats.


Nearly three-quarters of men and 69 percent of women wanted more political-party options. Republican women were the least likely to want a third party, with just 55 percent agreeing. If you combine the race and sex categories, white male and black female millennials were the most likely to voice support for a third party: 80 percent of the former and 73 percent of the latter endorsed the notion.

Overall, white millennials were most likely to want a third major party, with 75 percent embracing the idea. But strong majorities were seen across all racial and ethnic groups, with 69 percent of blacks and Asians and 64 percent of Latinos agreeing. (The margin of sampling error for some of these groups was quite high—as much as plus or minus 8.75 points for Asian respondents.)

Asked about the 2018 congressional election, 43 percent said they are either not sure whether they plan to vote Democratic or Republican or do not plan to vote for candidates from either party; pollsters didn't press further to see if this indicated a lack of any plans to vote in 2018 or a desire to vote for a third-party candidate. Of these millennials in the neither/not sure category, 16 percent said they leaned more toward Republicans, 32 percent said they leaned more toward Democrats, and 50 percent said they didn't lean toward either.

Needless to say, the fact that so many people want a third party doesn't mean they want the same third party. Alas, the pollsters didn't inquire about just what sort of party people would like to see. Nor did they ask whether people want just one more party or a multitude. And they didn't include any questions seeking opinions on the parties that are already out there: the Libertarians, the Greens, and so on. The poll strongly suggests that young Americans want more options, but it won't tell you anything about what missing choices they have in mind.

Alabama Senate Election Shouldn't Be a Binary Choice

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 10:25:00 -0500

The Alabama Senate special election is less than two weeks away, and voters will have just two names on the ballot, Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore. And although there's just one race on the ballot, Alabamans will still have the option to fill in a vote for "straight party." That option, used in general elections by voters who decide based purely on party affiliation, illustrates the structural problem with democratic politics in the U.S. Revelations about Roy Moore over the last month concerning accusations of inappropriate sexual contact with minors in the 1970s, which led many high-profile Republicans to rescind their endorsements, have left many Republican voters unenthusiastic about their choices. Although the state Republican party could withdraw Moore's name (meaning if he won, the election would not be valid), election law prohibits the replacement of a name less than 76 days before the election. Even worse, independent and third party candidates had to file by August 15, nearly four months before the election. There are at least four write-in candidates vying to provide voters another option in the special election, the most prominent of them being Lee Busby, a Marine colonel who was an aide to John Kelly when he served in Iraq. "I have no idea if the allegations against him true or not, but I don't see anything within his experience as a judge that qualifies him for the job," Busby said of Moore to The Daily Beast. "Alabama is not happy with the two choices we have down here. They are not appealing." None of these is more than an afterthought, leaving the democratic process in Alabama woefully unresponsive to voter demand. American consumers don't accept binary choices in almost any other sphere. Even with rivalries like McDonald's vs. Burger King or Coke vs. Pepsi consumers spend billions of dollars on many other fast food and soft drink companies. As Moore's problems pile up—two weeks ago Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Moore wasn't fit to serve in the Senate and said he wouldn't rule out expelling him—his support remains relatively steady. While Jones led by five points in one poll earlier this months, and Moore's Real Clear Politics polling average lead is just one point, the latest polling suggests that even as Moore's unfavorability rating ticks upward, he maintains a five to 10 point lead. Conservatives concerned about the crass turn the Republican party has taken, like those at the National Review, say Moore never should have received the nomination. The Democrats' reticence to make an example of either Sen. Al Franken or Rep. John Conyers could be helping Moore hold on to support. Both have been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, and their resignations or expulsions would not put their party's control of their seats at immediate risk. Many of Moore's supporters, particularly evangelicals, may be sticking with him over concerns about abortion. At National Review, Alexandra Desanctis describes Jones as an abortion "zealot." In the end, the vast majority of Alabamans who bother to vote (and it won't be a lot of them—fewer than 600,000 of the more than 3 million registered voters in the state came out for the primary, and the general is less than two weeks before Christmas), will go with Moore or Jones. It's not hard to imagine partisan politics eventually resembling the 1996 Halloween Simpsons scene where, faced with the prospect of choosing between two space aliens in control of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, voters still refused to consider a real human, Ross Perot. While some progressives argue for compulsory voting, were "none of the above" available, many political offices might remain vacant. How little voting matters, as Katherine Mangu-Ward explains, makes the predicament all the more disheartening. Moore is a deeply flawed candidate many conservatives will say they feel compelled to vote for because the other option is a D[...]

The Libertarian Party's Paid Membership Numbers Take a Dive

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 12:45:00 -0400

The Libertarian Party (L.P.) had many successes during and after Gary Johnson's 2016 run for president. Most prominent was Johnson's record-busting 4.46 million votes. Revenue to the national party last year hit an over-a-decade high of around $2.5 million. And registered voters for the L.P. hit an all-time high of over half a million. Dues-paying active members of the national party rose 66 percent over the course of 2016. That figure has, however, dived enormously so far in 2017. At the end of January 2017 the party hit its highest membership number of this decade, 18,908. That number dropped 24 percent to 14,321 as of the end of August (That number is still substantially larger than any other year-end figure for this decade.) Seeing dues-paying member totals fall a year after huge waves of new members were attracted by the Johnson campaign was predictable, says national L.P. executive director Wes Benedict in a phone interview this week. Benedict specifically predicted a 4,000-5,000 member drop by this time in an April report to the Libertarian National Committee. The actual year-to-date numbers proved him right. Only 300 new paying members joined the party in August while over 2,000 failed to renew their membership. However, the trend line of monthly renewals has been on a slight upswing over the past year. So many new people joined last year that the numbers renewing and the numbers failing to renew have both increased lately. The years after presidential elections have often (but not always) seen a dive in those paying the (now) $25 yearly for official dues-paying membership. For example, from end of 1992 to end of 1993, dues-paying member numbers dropped 16 percent, and 2000 to 2001 saw the same percentage drop. More recently, end of 2008 to end of 2009 saw a 10 percent drop, and 2012 to 2013, a two percent drop. But post-presidential election year declines in paid membership have not been a universal rule; from end of 1988 to end of 1989 that figure grew 25 percent, and from end of 1996 to end of 1997 it grew by six percent. And most of the past yearly drops are smaller in percentage terms than this year's so far (though the last quarter could see an upswing again). Benedict points out that the membership rise last year was substantially higher than usual, giving the L.P. a larger number of converts who they might fail to get renewed. Total 2017 revenue will come in at about $1.7 million (with what's already come in by August beating the past decade's average for odd-numbered electoral off-years by around 22 percent); this means money strictly from the $25 yearly dues-paying member fees is likely going to be less than a third of total income for 2017. "August revenue is strong for this year compared to other post-election years," he says. The inability to retain people attracted by the Johnson campaign bothers many party members. Mark Rutherford of Indiana, a candidate for national chair of the party in 2016, worries the national party "doesn't deliver perceived value" to enough activists. It's possible that the national party messaging is turning people off, he says. Some pronouncements from the party's national office may come across as "our preaching that we are morally superior to you voters and, guess what? That doesn't win votes," and makes it seem as if the L.P. would "prefer to have a party of just 500 morally superior persons," he says. Rutherford is, however, encouraged by moves like the recent hiring of a full-time press secretary for the first time in years. He thinks the national party needs to build up a more detailed and personal relationship with the national press, something he feels he's been successful with in Indiana during his many years in the past as the state L.P.'s chair. State Party over National Party While not thrilled by the drop in dues-paying national members, state officers stress the attention should focus on state an[...]

Dismissal Upheld by D.C. Appeals Court in Gary Johnson Lawsuit Regarding Presidential Debates

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 18:53:00 -0400

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, former Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and others challenging the practices of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) had a bad day today. Judge Janice Brown concluded in a decision today from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that an earlier decision from D.C. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer to dismiss their lawsuit was correctly decided. I reported on the oral arguments in the case of Johnson v. Commission on Presidential Debates before a three-judge panel of the Court that included Brown back in April. (Another judge on the panel, Cornelia Pillard, concurred with Brown.) Brown found wanting arguments that practices keeping third party candidates such as Johnson and Stein out of the debates violate their First Amendment rights and antitrust laws. They were challenging an agreement between the Romney and Obama campaigns giving the CPD sole power to host debates between them in 2012 as: an unlawful agreement to monopolize and restrain competition in violation of sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act....The Complaint also alleges exclusion of Plaintiffs from the debates "because of hostility towards their political viewpoints" in violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech and association...They sought invalidation of the 15 per cent polled-support requirement [for candidates to appear in CPD hosted debates], injunctive relief dissolving the Commission and enjoining further collusion between the two major parties, and treble damages. Brown was neither convinced by this somewhat novel attempt to apply antitrust law to political markets, nor by the First Amendment argument. The Court ordering the CPD to allow certain people into the debates, or to admit people under certain criteria the CPD did not choose, would violate the CPD's own First Amendment rights, Brown reasoned. Further, when it comes to Johnson and his co-plaintiff's First Amendment complaint: the Complaint omits entirely any allegation of government action, focusing entirely on the actions of the nonprofit Defendants.... There may be First Amendment injuries we could invent for Plaintiffs, but those claims were not presented in the Complaint. As for those antitrust arguments, Brown is dismissive: antitrust standing requires a plaintiff to show an actual or threatened injury "of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent" that was caused by the defendant's alleged wrongdoing.....Plaintiffs, however, define their injuries as millions of dollars in free media, campaign donations, and federal matching funds—injuries to them as individual candidates in a political contest for votes. Square peg, meet round hole.... This conclusion—that an antitrust violation must involve injury to commercial competition—is supported by Plaintiffs' inability to define a commercial market in which they operate. Instead, they discuss the "presidential campaign market," "the electoral politics market," and the "presidential candidates market...." While these terms may capture what political scientists call a "political economy," the phrase is merely a term of art. Short of alleging Americans are engaged in a widespread practice of selling their votes—which the Complaint does not do—the "market" Plaintiffs identify is no more regulated by the antitrust laws than the "marketplace of ideas" or a "meet market." The injuries Plaintiffs claim are simply not those contemplated by the antitrust laws. Johnson lawyer Bruce Fein said in an email today that "We will be filling a motion for rehearing or rehearing en banc" from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Brown's decision. Among the problems with the decision, Fein wrote, was the judge "decreed rather than explained why campaigning for the presidency could not be a trade or business within the meaning of the antitrust laws by presuming a counterfact[...]

Court Ruling Jeopardizes Ranked Voting System in Maine

Thu, 25 May 2017 12:30:00 -0400

A pioneering electoral reform that passed in Maine last November has hit a snag: The state's top court says it violates the state constitution. Maine voters last year approved Question 5, a measure changing the way statewide elections would be tabulated. Under the new "ranked choice" system, voters would not simply select one candidate and check a box. Instead they'd be able to rank each candidate in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority on the first tally, the candidate with the least votes would be tossed from the race. Then the ballots would be recounted, and those who voted for the eliminated candidate would have their votes go to their second choice instead. This would continue until a candidate gets a majority. Ranked choice voting already occurs in a handful of American cities for local elections. Maine was going to be the first place to implement it for statewide and legislative races. But the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously this week that the Maine constitution forbids it. Under that document, the governor and state-level lawmakers must be selected by earning a plurality of the vote, not a majority. The court's ruling is advisory, and it doesn't actually strike down the initiative. The purpose is to let lawmakers know that Question 5 is unconstitutional as-is; how legislators deal with that is up to them. Still, if the state does nothing and lets ranked choice voting commence in 2018, there could be legal challenges to the elections' outcomes. Many Republican leaders in Maine opposed a shift to ranked choice voting. (The state's colorful and controversial Republican Gov. Paul LePage was elected with a plurality.) But a ranked choice system isn't just a threat to the GOP. By essentially eliminating the fear of "throwing your vote away" or bolstering a "spoiler," it could pose a serious challenge to the two-party system's stranglehold. A citizen who isn't satisfied with the Democrat and Republican would be able to pick a third option, then rank one of the major-party nominees higher than the other. If their first choice does poorly and gets knocked out, their vote isn't wasted. Imagine how candidate behavior might change if voters were able to reject the "lesser of two evils" argument. FairVote, a non-profit group devoted to promoting ranked-choice voting reform, is calling for lawmakers in Maine to update the state's constitution so that Question 5 may be implemented without fear of legal challenges: Maine voters embraced ranked choice voting because they wanted a stronger voice, more civil campaigns, and to reform our toxic politics. This opinion must not stand in the way of the will of the people. We call on the Maine legislature to uphold the will of the people and support a constitutional amendment to enact [ranked choice voting] for all statewide elections in Maine. Ranked choice voting is also still plainly constitutional for major offices in Maine, including elections for U.S. Senate and U.S. House. Those elections have been affected by split-votes in the past, and will benefit from the use of ranked choice voting going forward. Independent and third-party voters should keep a close eye on Maine's 2018 election, particularly as the two major parties grow more polarized and perhaps a bit body-slammy. As I wrote in November, ranked choice voting "doesn't necessarily mean an increased likelihood of third-party or independent candidates winning, and that's not how we should grade success. We should look for outcomes like electoral participation, satisfaction with choices, what issues become central to the races, and overall happiness and support for whomever wins." Bonus link: In December, Reason's Zach Weissmueller interviewed Richard Woodbury of Maine's Committee for Ranked Choice Voting about what such a system would mean for American politics. Listen to that[...]

Election Do-Over Poll Shows Gains for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 10:36:00 -0400

(image) If the people who participated in last year's election could do it all again, Donald Trump would win the popular vote this time—but he wouldn't actually get more support than before. Instead, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, many Hillary Clinton voters would now stay home or back a third-party candidate.

In the actual election, Clinton bested Trump in the popular vote, 48 percent to 46 percent. In the survey, 46 percent said they voted for Clinton and 43 percent said they voted for Trump—not the same numbers, obviously, but it's a similar margin. When those same people were asked who they'd pick if they could do it again, Trump now won, 43 to 40.

You'll note that Trump hasn't gotten any more popular—he gets 43 percent either way. But Clinton has bled support: Gary Johnson now gets 5 percent of the vote (one point higher than how the respondents said they voted last year), Jill Stein gets 3 percent (another one-point bump), and another 8 percent would either vote for someone else or not vote at all. (The remainder say they have no opinion.) The pollsters note that "nonwhites are 10 points more likely than whites to say they would not support Clinton again, with more than a third of them heading to the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson."

It's not all bad news for the Clintonites, though. When you include people who didn't vote in 2016, Clinton comes out ahead in the do-over, 41 percent to 37 percent. (Johnson and Stein are still at 5 and 3 percent, respectively.) So some nonvoters appear to wish they hadn't sat the last election out.

But when it comes to third-party supporters, we don't seem to be seeing anything like the regretful Ralph Nader voters of 2000. If anything, this poll suggests we're witnessing the opposite.

Bonus link: "Again and again this year, Americans looked at the choices before them and said, I'd prefer something else."

Victory for Third-Party Ballot Access in Georgia

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 16:45:00 -0500

Third parties have a reason to rejoice, at least in Georgia. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a ruling that a portion of the Georgia ballot access law violated the U.S. Constitution. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a three-judge panel unanimously sided with U.S. District Judge Richard Story, who had previously lowered the number of signatures required for third-party candidates to get on the ballot from tens of thousands to 7,500. Back in 2012, the Georgia Constitution Party and the Georgia Green Party sued the state, claiming that the requirement to obtain 1 percent of registered voters' signatures was artificially high. The year they sued, the third parties would have needed at least 50,334 signatures to gain ballot access. Thanks to Story, that number was greatly reduced last year. State officials decided to appeal his decision, arguing that parties must show a "modicum of support" or risk resulting in voter confusion and a crowded presidential ballot. But the panel of judges sided with the parties. Laughlin McDonald, the Director-emeritus of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, praised the court's ruling. "I think it's a great decision," McDonald told the AJC. "The state put up no evidence whatsoever as to voter confusion or ballot overcrowding." A spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who oversees elections, stated that he and his team are reviewing their options. According to the AJC, if the state does appeal, it will likely ask all 11 members of the 11th Circuit Court to review the decision. Third parties have been gaining more mainstream pull lately, in part due to last year's presidential election that saw two of the most disliked candidates of all time pitted against each other. Ballotpedia found that as of April 2016, the Libertarian Party is recognized by 33 states, while the Green Party is recognized by 21 and the Constitution Party by 15. Yet third parties still face arbitrary restrictions in many states. Ohio is just one place where third parties have continuously fought for ballot access with limited to no success. As Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty explained back in January, Ohio forced Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 2016, to appear on the ballot as an independent rather than with his proper party title. "Johnson got 3.17 percent of the Ohio vote, which would normally, in Ohio law, qualify the party who got it for ballot access, and the ability to have a ballot primary, next time around," he wrote. "However, according to an opinion from the Ohio Supreme Court last week, Johnson's vote total doesn't count for the L.P.'s future ballot access since the state wouldn't let him on the ballot with his Party identification." In happier news, this week a federal judge ruled against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in the case Level the Playing Field et al v. FEC. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., held that the rules that currently govern participation in the presidential election are unfair. See a deeper look at that case, also from Doherty, here.[...]

Did the Libertarian Party Blow It in 2016?

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:00:00 -0500

Objectively speaking, 2016 was the Libertarian Party's best year ever. It was also a savage disappointment. On the positive side, the presidential ticket of two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts, received more than 4.46 million votes, amounting (as of press time) to 3.28 percent of the national haul, smashing the party's previous highs of 1.28 million and 1.06 percent, respectively. The L.P. nominee was on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the first time since 2000, and he outperformed the Green Party's Jill Stein in each one. "We are the only political party in the country that's growing," Libertarian Party National Chair Nicholas Sarwark crowed the morning after the election. "We've tripled our vote totals [over] 2012.…We control a bloc of the electorate that covers the spread in almost all if not all of the battleground states. We've beaten the other third every single state." For the first time, the L.P. now has more than a half-million registered voters. The Johnson/Weld campaign raised around $12 million, according to internal accounts (the final Federal Election Commission reports have not yet been filed). That destroys the previous record of $3.5 million, set in 1980 (and $2.1 million of the 1980 total came from billionaire vice-presidential candidate David Koch). The national party pulled in nearly $3 million in additional donations this year, too. U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller of Alaska received 30 percent of the vote in his race, the highest such total in party history—especially impressive as he had both a Republican and a Democratic opponent. (Generally, if an L.P. candidate for any legislative seat gets double-digit percentages, it's because one of the major parties sat the race out.) GOP defections in 2016 also gave the L.P. sitting state legislators in Nevada, Nebraska, and Utah. All told, the party has come a long way since its founding in 1971, when a small gang of dreamers hoped it would become a vehicle to get press attention for libertarian ideas. Still, measured against expectations—let alone the basic standard that successful political parties must win elections—the Libertarian Party had its most disappointing year ever. "We wanted to win, and we didn't achieve that goal," Johnson's campaign manager, Ron Nielson, acknowledged shortly after the election. "We were hoping to get into the presidential debate, and no matter how hard we tried we could not achieve that goal. After that our goal was to get 5 percent, and for the last 45 days we pushed toward that effort, which was entirely achievable but for the fact that the election came down to such a tight margin between Clinton and Trump. That put pressure on third-party support, and a lot of Johnson support moved in the end toward Trump, or possibly chose not to participate." While 3.28 percent marked an all-time high for the party, it was also just a third of the campaign's highest polling average, which came in late July. All summer long Johnson had avoided the typical third-party fade, with such forecasters as FiveThirtyEight projecting a finish higher than 7 percent for months on end. But the plates came crashing down over the final eight weeks, prompting much anguish and fingerpointing among activists and supporters. "The Libertarian Party," wrote 2016 L.P. presidential runner-up Austin Petersen on Election Day, "has blown a chance that it may never have again in my lifetime." There was plenty of bad news to go along with Johnson's late collapse. One of the party's sitting state legislators, Utah Sen. Mark Madsen, did not run for re-election and will be gone in January. A second, Nevada Assemblyman John Moore, suffered what might be a historic man[...]

Hillary Clinton Likely Lost Because More Democrats Stayed Home

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 12:32:00 -0500

Stop the presses. Turns out it wasn't Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin that cost Hillary Clinton her spot in the Oval Office, it was the fact that a significantly greater number of registered Democrats than Republicans just stayed home rather than cast a ballot for the former secretary of state. Of the approximately 100,000 registered voters who took a post-election SurveyMonkey poll, over 3,600 were non-voters, according to FiveThirtyEight. Unsurprisingly, about 90 percent of registered Democrats and Republicans voted for their party's candidate, and the data also shows a preference for unaffiliated voters for Clinton—which is partly why the conventional wisdom narrative immediately formulated around the theory that third party voters had selfishly denied Clinton her rightful ascendance to the presidency. But hang on. All the ballots cast for third party candidates combined only amounted to a little more than about 7,000,000, yet according to the SurveyMonkey poll, 35 percent of registered voters who didn't vote self-identified as Democrats. Self-identified Republicans who didn't vote amounted to only 32 percent of the total. FiveThirtyEight summarizes the consequences here: That means that had the non-voters cast a ballot in accordance with their party identification, Clinton's advantage over Trump nationally would have expanded by about 2 to 3 percentage points. That almost certainly would have been enough to flip enough states for her to win the Electoral College. Throughout 2016, polls indicated that voters found Trump and Clinton to be the least popular major party presidential candidates in history, and this latest poll confirmed that dislike of both candidates was the biggest factor for non-voters in deciding to opt out of the choice. The SurveyMonkey poll also showed Trump and Clinton earning favorability ratings in the low 30s among non-voters, and only in the low 40s among people who actually voted for one of them. Clinton was unable to motivate key Democratic demographic groups to vote for her. The poll found that non-whites amounted to about 42 percent of non-voters, but just 25 percent of voters. Worse for Clinton, black voters abandoned her in dramatic numbers. In 2016 black non-voters outnumbered black voters—a reverse of 2012's results—and 46 percent of black voters under the age of 30 (who tended to favor Bernie Sanders to Clinton far more than older black voters) did not vote in this past election. Trump, for his part, was able to turn out significantly higher numbers of white voters without a college degree than Mitt Romney did in 2012, which FiveThirtyEight writes is "pretty remarkable that a group of voters that is shrinking as a percentage of the population made up a larger share of the electorate in 2016 than in 2012." It's unlikely this inconvenient (for Clinton supporters) data will change any minds about which non-compliant voters cost Clinton "her turn" in the White House. After all, almost two decades later Democrats are still blaming Ralph Nader for costing Al Gore the 2000 election, but have engaged in precious little soul-searching over the fact that Gore lost his own state or that more Florida Democrats voted for George W. Bush than Nader by a factor of 12:1. But the data is there in case Democrats ever want to consider that candidates matter, and not just the candidate you're running against.[...]

The Unkillable Two-Party System

Wed, 21 Dec 2016 06:00:00 -0500

The unprecedentedly bizarre presidential election we have just survived taught us many unpleasant lessons. Among the most startling was the extent to which, even in a year dominated by voter revulsion at the two leading candidates, the two-party mindset nonetheless continued to maintain a powerful magnetic pull on the actions and reactions of so many people. Consider Bill Maher's treatment of Colin Kaepernick. The San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback created a national stir in August by refusing to stand for the National Anthem, explaining: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.…There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." There were follow-up controversies about Kaepernick wearing game socks that portrayed cops as cartoon pigs, about the correlation between anthem protests and plunging NFL TV ratings, and about his truly terrible performance on the field in two blowout losses. But what infuriated the HBO comedian to the point that he called Kaepernick a "fucking idiot"? This: After the first presidential debate, the QB noted that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are "proven liars" and suggested that the election was about "the lesser of two evils." Also a "fucking idiot" in Maher's view: Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, who unlike Clinton and Trump has positions similar to Maher's on civil liberties and war. But after The New York Times in September published a scare story about how Johnson-leaning millennials might throw the election away from the presumably entitled Clinton, supposedly independent-thinking comedians of all stripes had a unanimous message to their fans: Don't even think third party. Stephen Colbert called Johnson "laughable." HBO's John Oliver said the Libertarian was "around 80 percent sure that he's running for president." And all three comics were just as harsh on Green Party nominee Jill Stein. Fewer and fewer voters are buying into this dreary us vs. them shtick—the percentage of people who self-identified as "independents" at mid-September of an election year has increased since 2004 from 29 to 35 to 38 to 40, according to Gallup—but that still leaves three-fifths of the adult population with a Pavlovian impulse to mobilize against the Other Guy every time someone bangs the "most important election of our lifetimes" gong. Human hearts, no matter how damaged, wrong, or plain cruel, can always be changed. More challenging is to uproot what might be called the ghost architecture of the two-party system, the hidden edifices that trap us in a political duopoly. Ballot access laws, the bane to every third party's existence, are written, enforced, and interpreted by politicians with primary affiliations to the Democratic and Republican parties. In September, Florida's Division of Elections, which reports directly to GOP Gov. Rick Scott, ruled that independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin, who had been nominated legally by the Independent Party of Florida, would nonetheless not appear on the November ballot. Why? Because, in a reversal of an order given five years before, the state suddenly decided that qualifying political parties had to be one of the 13 officially recognized "national parties" in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission, even though states obviously have the legal leeway to set their own election guidelines. "Now that the [major] parties are suffering in Florida and are less powerful," Ballot Access News guru Richard Winger told Politico, "the state feels it can change the rule with impunity." Blocking out a candidate who takes most of his support from Republicans was a blatant attempt [...]

Spoiling the 'Spoiler' Effect and Making Elections Better with Ranked Choice Voting. (New Reason Podcast)

Fri, 16 Dec 2016 13:10:00 -0500

As political pundits who missed the Donald Trump phenomenon grapple with Hillary Clinton's loss in the presidential election, some have lashed out at third-party voters, whom they blame for costing Clinton victories in the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

Putting aside the problems with this argument—the most obvious of which is that voters who picked Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party's Jill Stein weren't guaranteed to unanimously break for Clinton had they been deprived of another choice—the "spoiler effect" is one that regularly plagues third parties in American elections. Voters often feel compelled to choose the "lesser of two evils," a phrase never more apt than in this year when Americans disliked both Clinton and Trump at record-high levels.

But what if a simple change to the way we vote allowed Americans to vote their conscience and choose the lesser of two evils? And what if this change could improve the quality of the candidates and elevate the level of discourse?

Our guest on today's episode of the Reason Podcast argues just that.

Richard Woodbury is the chair of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. Ranked choice voting, wherein voters are allowed to rank candidates from best to worst rather than voting for only one just passed in the state of Maine by voter ballot initiative, making it the first state to adopt this electoral reform. Woodbury served as an Independent in the Maine House and Senate for five terms, during which he introduced ranked choice voting legislation, though it never passed during his tenure. By trade, he's an economist who works for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

On today's episode, Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller spoke with Woodbury about the mechanics of ranked choice voting, how and why it passed in Maine, why third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein endorsed the ballot measure, and how wider implementation of such a reform could transform American politics for the better.

Click below to listen right now via SoundCloud.

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