Right now, the bigwigs in state politics — the party leaders, the governor, legislators — are embroiled in an effort to significantly change how candidates get on the ballot and who voters get to vote for.
One of the key issues they’re debating is the fate of third parties in New York state, by considering changes to how easily they can access the ballot and whether their candidates can run on multiple ballot lines.
The choices these officials make will determine how much choice voters ultimately have to select their elected representatives at the polling place.
If the politicians in charge of this effort want some guidance as to how to proceed — looking at this only through the voters’ perspective and not basing their actions how they can gain the best political advantage — they should ask voters a simple question and proceed based on the answer:
“Voters: Do you want more choice or less?”
As a voter, what would your answer be?
Do you want more candidates to appear on the ballot or less? Do you want the option of selecting candidates based on their political views as expressed through third parties, or do you just want to select from candidates chosen by the two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans?
While the issues surrounding providing voters with options are complex, the answer to these questions really isn’t.
Don’t limit our choices.
However, the political powers that be are looking at doing exactly that in two ways — one by making it more difficult for third parties to qualify for a ballot line and by eliminating fusion voting, which is where candidates can appear on more than one ballot line, such as Democrat and Working Families Party lines.
Let’s start with the proposal to make it more difficult for third parties to get on the ballot.
According to a New York Times article last week, the chairman of the state Democratic Party is proposing to raise the threshold for third parties to qualify for the ballot for the next election. The proposal calls for raising from 50,000 to 250,000 the number of votes that a party’s candidate for governor must receive in order for the party to appear on the ballot the next four years.
The Democratic and Republican parties in this state have no problem ever meeting that threshold. For the state’s third most popular party, the Conservative Party, the goal would be manageable, but close. Other third parties like the Working Families Party would have trouble even coming close to making the ballot with the bar set so high.
The Democratic chairman justifies the higher threshold by saying it would eliminate fringe parties from being on the ballot and would reduce voter confusion. But fringe parties rarely meet the current standard anyway, and voters in New York are used to seeing third parties on the ballot, so the presence of multiple party lines on a ballot is hardly confusing to most.
Fewer parties on the ballot mean voters are limited to voting for just those candidates that have big money and big-party support.
The issue of limiting ballot access ties in with proposals to eliminate fusion voting.
Among the arguments against fusion voting are that it makes ballots cumbersome, that it gives third parties undue influence into the positions of the major parties, and that it allows minor parties to gain leverage in securing political patronage jobs, presumably at the expense of supporters of major political parties who want those political patronage jobs.
We’ve supported fusion voting for the very reason that it not only gives voters a choice, but it also allows them to use that choice to influence the actions of the major political parties in a way they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
What many voters do when they see a candidate running under a major party line and a third party line is vote for the candidate on the third party line. That sends a message that while they support the individual candidate, they support him or her based on his alliance with the ideals and positions of the third party. Even without the third party getting the most votes in that election, the party and its supporters still win in a way because the votes they got convey the voters’ preference.
With only two parties to select from — Democrat or Republican — the party leaders of those parties have no reason to consider alternative views, such as the views of voters who lean more toward the left or the right.
We don’t think voters’ brains will explode if they encounter a ballot with candidates running for the same office under different party lines. And we don’t think it undermines effective government if the candidate that wins is forced to consider the views of voters who selected him under a third party line. Quite the opposite.
Efforts to control third party access to the ballot are nothing more than undisguised attempts by big-money politicians and parties to consolidate power, discourage alternative points of view and deprive voters of choice.
If these politicians truly cared what the voters want, they’d do what’s best for the voters, not themselves.