Carte Blanche: Fair Elections For Third-Party Candidates

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We live in a time when mainstream political rhetoric conflates liberty with a democratic society. Majority rule has become a deified concept, where everything good: public institutions, politicization, and centralization, is democratic and everything bad: private property, hierarchical business, and capitalism are undemocratic. This deification of democratic majority has proven extremely useful to big government, because if “democratic” is good, why not democratize everything? In terms of this US government model, statists still tell us that coercion by our government really is voluntary through the magical majority rule, through the “will of the people”. We object to coercive entitlement programs, but we are told that their existence is simply the “will of the people” and therefore chosen by ourselves. Although young people might not have individually consented to Social Security, the majority of House Representatives and senators consented to it, and two of these senators came from states where these individual young people live, and are elected by a majority of arbitrarily drawn voting districts, and the voting district that this young person lived in voted for that senator because the majority of voters put a line next to the name of one candidate more than another, and this “consenting” individual was able to vote in this election. There we have it, a tautology of tacit consent gives the holistic “democratic” justification for the use of force by the state. (Never mind that Social Security legislation happened before many of us paying for it were born).

This should conclude that government as we know it is clearly not voluntary in the slightest and democracy is not a prerequisite for liberty. However, as libertarians, we have the ability to make defensive acts under the government in which we live, to keep the law as voluntary and consensual as possible. The idea that our current government is voluntary is even further made ridiculous by the fact that we have a two party duopoly in elections, leaving two choices that lead to a similar size and scope of government. The idea that Republicans and Democrats hold a duopoly is not based on the fact that they are big, because a monopoly is not defined by “bigness”. They are a duopoly because of obvious barriers to entry to ballot access for their competitors.

Independent and third-party candidates for Congressional elections face an uphill battle to be listed on the ballot compared to their Republican and Democratic counterparts. It is important to recognize that ballot access rules for Congressional elections can be controlled by state governments. Many of these state laws have requirements for candidates to receive a certain amount of the vote to qualify for ballot access in future elections. A similar rule is the required amount of signatures candidates must collect to be listed. The problem with these rules is that the percentage of the vote required is specifically and arbitrarily changed to keep out competing third-parties, and the amount of required signatures is often thousands higher for non-partisans compared to mainstream party members.

This problem has been recognized by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), and he has introduced a bill to reduce it, in hopes of a more voluntary system and equal ballot access for independents and third-parties. Amash is a libertarian Republican often contrasting on matters from the rest of the GOP. His proposal is called the Ballot Fairness Act.

This legislation would prohibit the inequalities between independent and third-party candidates. First, it would mandate that all candidates for Congress must have equal requirements to make the ballot. Independents would not be penalized by more required signatures or a certain amount of the vote for choosing not to join the Republican-Democrat duopoly. The second piece of the legislation abolishes party-line voting on the ballot and would require voters to choose candidates individually. With straight-party ticket voting available, independents and third-parties are again given a disadvantage. To summarize the Ballot Fairness Act, it is intended to “To require States to impose the same ballot access rules on all candidates in a general congressional election held in the State without regard to whether or not the candidates are nominees of a political party, and to require States to use a ballot for a general congressional election that requires a specific vote for a candidate for the office involved.”

In an article from Reason, Eric Boehm points out a perfect example of why we need Amash’s bill to pass. In Arkansas, the ballot qualifications had previously been 10,000 signatures, which Mark West, the candidate for the Libertarian Party had completed to run for governor. He then continued to receive 2.9 percent of the vote in the 2018 elections. Apparently, the Republicans were not too happy with this, as Governor Asa Hutchinson and state lawmakers changed the ballot access qualification early in 2019 from 10,000 signatures to 3 percent of the vote. But this should not come as a surprise. If all of our politicians are made up of Republicans and Democrats and can arbitrarily write rules for ballot access, are they more likely to put third-party chances equal to their own, or put them at a disadvantage?

Besides creating equal access for independents, the Ballot Fairness Act hints at Justin Amash’s support of the Libertarian Party, which would benefit greatly from the bill. Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, Nicholas Sarwark, has shown his support of the bill, telling Reason, “It also is a good test for which members of Congress really want more participation in the political process, since it would allow more voices from across the political spectrum to participate in elections without unfair barriers created by the two old parties.” Justin Amash himself has also considered seeking the Libertarian nomination for president in 2020.

Sometimes a common criticism of the Libertarian Party, from conservative voters especially, is the impossibility of a candidate ever winning office. However, this is not the point nor why many run. A small 3 percent of the vote for Libertarian candidates in elections can show future Republicans and Democrats that if they want that 3 percent back, they will have to embrace more of a small-government stance on issues. Obviously, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson is threatened by the Libertarians if he is willing to raise the ballot access bar to keep them away. But furthermore, as long as third-parties are legally disadvantaged from making the ballot compared to mainstream parties, partisans have no intellectual right to even make a claim about the likelihood of them winning. Maybe there can be a time when politicians will be more transparent with political parties based on a real ideology, instead of Justin Amash being packed into the Republican Party with others that hold nearly opposite views from libertarianism.

Unfortunately, regardless of its merits, the Ballot Fairness Act will likely not be passed or even see a vote in Congress. If it does receive a vote it will be an excellent litmus test for mainstream statists and their beloved Republican and Democratic politicians. We already know that our government uses democracy to justify coercive acts, but when politicians are preaching the gospel of making everything “democratic”, think about how they will reject Justin Amash’s bill for ballot fairness.