Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Wishing he could take it back

The proprietor of another blog, to which I from time to time contribute, regrets the vote he cast in 2004. (He doesn’t say whether he regrets his vote in 2000.) Since he was voting in Georgia, an abstention or a vote for Kerry wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome, which I regard as a good thing. Unlike him, I don’t regret my votes, given the choices we had. I can’t imagine a President Gore on 9-11 or a President Kerry at any time.

What interests me at the moment aren’t my friend’s reasons (which are relatively nuanced, though I could pick some fights, if I wanted to), but the response he offers to Kate’s comment. Here it is, in full:

[O]ne of the problems with our country is our lack of choices in elections. It is almost impossible for an independent or third party candidate to get on the state ballots. And the deck is stacked against this happening. I think that it is a myth that we have choices in our elections. This is probably one of the primary reasons that many people don’t vote.

Ballot access is a bit of an issue, though plenty of parties and candidates seem to be capable of overcoming it. Indeed, if they can’t, then they don’t deserve our serious consideration.

But there’s something else here, as well. It seems to me that the Electoral College, with its winner-take-all (in most cases) state races, actually makes possible what I would regard as "responsible" third-party voting. In Georgia or any other relatively deeply red state, I could cast a "protest" vote without contributing to the election of someone whose views I regarded as anathema. A liberal voter in New York or Massachusetts could similarly vote Green without making it any less likely that his or her candidate would win the state. Such protest votes enable incipient replacement parties to test their electoral viability, setting the stage for a more sustained challenge to one of the major parties down the road.

In a straight popular vote election, the fact that my vote would "count" would make me less likely to choose an alternative to the Republican candidate, because I would then be a little more directly contributing to something I really don’t want.

What do folks think of this tentative and sketchy defense of the E.C. as the incubator, not of third parties (it discourages them), but of incipient replacement parties?

Discussions - 9 Comments

Of course, with a President Gore, we probably wouldn’t be in Iraq right now, so that’s something.

But on your main point: it’s an interesting thought, but (1) the answer to your question really hinges on what alternative system it’s being compared to, and (2) votes to third parties are determinative in elections already, so I’m not sure how that fits in with your thesis. Just ask elderly folks in Palm Beach who voted in 2000.

I think you’re right working on the assumption that a state’s political leaning is so settled that the actual distribution of electoral votes is a foregone conclusion. In a swing state, political parity makes such protest votes potentially very costly. Overall, the electoral college system does promote the more effective representation of smaller parties given that they can compete in smaller population pools. A national popular vote wouldn’t just provide incentive for neglecting smaller states but also smaller interests now lost within a huge, undifferentiated national contest.

That’s an interesting point, though academic at best. My wife felt comfortable voting for Nader in California precisely because here it didn’t have a chance of making a difference. Still, the allure of being able to cast meaningless protest votes is lost on me.

And obviously in practice, the EC hasn’t done much for alternative or 3rd party candidates.

The history of political parties in the US indicates that the EC is not a great incubator of replacment parties.

The real problem with American politics is its reliance on a plurality rather than a majority in determining a winner. It is this that discourages third or fourth parties, not the EC. I don’t see any technical reason that we cannot institute the type of "instant runoff" system used in other countries. Of course, the current two parties which have a stranglehold on politics would never do anything to reduce their own power, so it may be impossible in a practical sense.

"Ballot access is a bit of an issue, though plenty of parties and candidates seem to be capable of overcoming it. Indeed, if they can’t, then they don’t deserve our serious consideration."

The two states where that I have been familiar with, Texas and Georgia, have incredibly high barriers to ballot access. So the “don’t deserve our serious consideration” comment is, I believe, off. In Texas, for example, to sign a petition for a third party, you have to be registered to vote but could not have voted in that year’s primaries. The theory being that voting in a primary is declaring allegiance to that party for a year. Therefore, you can’t hunt for signatures among disgruntled activist, most of whom voted in the primary. It is almost impossible to get on the Texas ballot without paid petitioners (Perot).

Ironically, it is hardest in many Southern States and this was initially intended to keep Republicans off the ballot. Problem with changing the law now is who is going to support it? This very much favors the entrenched parties who have no incentive to change the system. This strikes me as grossly unfair. The first election in Iraq had many parties on the ballot. Does Iraq need to teach America a lesson in democracy?

But I like the concept of replacement parties vs. third parties. The winner take all system doesn’t allow long term viable third parties. I have this debate with third party activist a lot. The CP or LP will never be a "viable" third party for more than a couple of election cycles. They will either be incorporated or fade away or replace an existing party.

But, based on a sense of fair play alone, I think people should support low ballot access requirements. Besides, on practical grounds it would provide a safety value for dissidents and purists like some people I know.:-)


I think it’s only sporting not to want to eat your cake and have it too. Do you really think it’s fair to have the opportunity to participate in putting two different nominees on the ballot? How could you distinguish that from someone who thought he or she should be entitled to vote in multiple primaries?

And of course primary participation is low enough and the petition requirements modest enough that a serious competitor wouldn’t have much trouble getting on the ballot.

The other point I should have made more clearly is that my argument only holds for "responsible" voting behavior in states safe for one party or the other. Closely contested states are a different issue altogether. I’d hate to have been a Perot voter who helped hand the White House to the Clintons for eight years or a Nader voter in Florida who could have enjoyed a Gore presidency (if that combination of words is even conceivable).

I’m with you, Joe. Given the choices we had, I would still vote for Bush. It’s not so much a commentary on voting behavior as a (sad) recognition of party politics in this country. What would George Washington make of a forced choice between Bush and Kerry? I’m glad he’s dead and can’t see what the country’s come to.


Interesting choice of phraseology, RE: George Washington. He would roll in his grave, no doubt.

Some would argue that "what the country’s come to" has been caused by unyielding alliance to what I call "The Lesser of Two Evils", in voting GOP every election so that the Dem’s don’t get in.

Unfortunately, this compromise, over time, is approaching Faustian. Remember, the "Lesser of Two Evils" is still evil. I continue to support 3rd parties, not in hopes that they’ll win, but with the goal of pushing the GOP back to their points of origin.

Big Government Conservativism?. Oxymoron, friends.

Obviously, Washington would have voted for Gore or Kerry before Bush. Washington understood how important intelligence is in considering a candidate. Anyone who watched the ’04 debates and couldn’t see who had vision, smarts, diplomatic skills, and love of the constitution wasn’t paying attention. Bush was a buffoon who needed a hearing aid to answer questions, while Kerry was dignified and answered every question. GWB saying he never made a mistake should have been the tip off for you.

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