Miglietta: “Parties Demand Room on Ballot”
August 10, 2011 in Ballot Access
John Miglietta, co-chair of the Green Party of Middle Tennessee, Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Fifth District seat in 2008 and 2010, and professor of political science at Tennessee State University has this piece in the Tennessean:
Third parties have played a significant role in American economic, social and political development. The Free Soil Party challenged slavery in the 1830s. Laws ending child labor, improving safety in the workplace, and giving workers living wages and benefits came about as a result from the reforms of the Progressive Party era.
Many of the New Deal reforms that saved American capitalism during the Great Depression originated with the Socialist Party. The current emphasis on limited government can be traced to the Libertarian Party ideology. Recent discussions of environmental, social justice and peace issues stem in part from the Green Party’s growth.
The two-party system developed during the early republic from coalitions within legislatures. As a result, the electoral system in the United States favors two large parties. These parties are more broad electoral coalitions than political parties with a distinct ideology and legislative agenda. The two-party system more often gives us gridlock than thoughtful, long-term public policy.
Election laws are written to maintain the position of the major parties. In many states, onerous restrictions are placed on third parties when they seek ballot access. Third-party candidates must spend the bulk of their resources just getting on the ballot, leaving no time or money to campaign.
The system in Tennessee creates a façade of choice but effectively prevents getting on the ballot as a third party in the state. Current state law mandates that signature petitions be filed within a specific time frame, and the parties would have to get more than 40,000 valid signatures.
This places an undue organizational and financial hurdle that the Democrats and Republicans do not have to meet, as they are granted ballot access automatically. Third-party candidates can get on the ballot, but they are forced to do so as independents. This generic designation puts these candidates at a distinct disadvantage, as they get lost on the ballot and voters cannot distinguish between them.
Our political system rewards those who already have money and name recognition while relegating the rest to an inferior status. The Constitution, Green and Libertarian parties successfully sued the state last year in federal court. The state legislature reworked the law but left several legally problematic requirements intact. The Constitution and Green parties have recently refiled the lawsuit.
Having additional parties on the ballot will provide voters with greater choices. Alternative public policies will be proposed and discussed. This creates a heightened interest in elections and an increase in voter turnout.
Choice is seen as a good thing in consumer goods such as toothpaste and dog food; why should we settle for just two political parties that reflect similar policies? Greater electoral competition would be a win for voters in Tennessee, as we would get greater substantive discussion of the issues and more innovative public policy. The attempt by the state legislature to propagate the monopoly of the political system by Democrats and Republicans is contrary to democracy and wastes public resources in defense of the current system.
John P. Miglietta is professor of political science at Tennessee State University. He is also co-chair of the Green Party of Middle Tennessee and was the Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Fifth District seat in 2008 and 2010.