David Crisp: 3rd parties face steep climb to higher office

If you are sick of hearing about Clinton, Cruz, Kasich, Sanders and Trump, take heart. Plenty of other choices are available.

In fact, there are 1,686 of them, according to the Federal Election Commission, which has to keep track of everybody who files a FEC Form 2 Statement of Candidacy. The candidates for president range from Jon Ababiy of Blaine, Minn., running for the Peace and Freedom Party, to Gyro Zeppeli of Naples, Fla., running on the Socialist Equality Party ticket.


David Crisp

The Communist Party offers an especially interesting array of candidates, including Don’t Vote for Trump of Norwalk, Iowa, the Antichrist (no address listed) and Zorro the Cockroach of Climax, Minn.

You may well suspect that some of these people are not serious candidates. Some might not even be using their real names. You may imagine that you would make a better president than Zorro the Cockroach or even better than some of the five candidates listed in the first paragraph. And you are probably right.

But filing with the FEC and actually getting on the ballot are two very different things. Ballotpedia estimates that it would take more than 800,000 petition signatures to get on the ballot in all 50 states. In Montana, you would have to collect 5,000 signatures and submit the petitions to the election administrator in the county where the signer lives.

Only two parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, have candidates on the ballots in all 50 states. Those candidates include the five above; in addition, four other Democrats have qualified for at least 5 percent of presidential ballots this year, according to Ballotpedia.

One of them, California real estate developer Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, appeared on the ballot at the Democratic Party caucus in Wyoming last week. Miami Herald humorist Dave Barry actually was on Fuentes’ campaign bus in Iowa, where he recorded this confrontation between Fuente and a police officer who said the bus was blocking a hotel entrance:

ROCKY: Let me introduce myself. I am going to be the next president of the United States.

OFFICER: Fine by me. But you have to move the bus.

Life is even tougher for so-called third parties. The Libertarian Party, with candidate Gary Johnson, is on the ballot in 34 states, including Montana, and is hoping for more, according to its website. The Green Party’s Jill Stein is on the ballot in 20 states; the party’s website lists Montana as one of six “very challenging” states for ballot access.

The website complains, “The extreme disparity of the burdens placed on new or ‘third’ parties vs. the two ‘major’ parties in the US has no parallel in any other democratic nation in the world.”

The Greens have a point. In England, 11 different political parties have representatives in the House of Commons. In Germany, five parties are represented in the Bundestag, and three more are represented in the country’s state legislatures. Even Russia has four political parties represented in the State Duma.

In the U.S. Congress, two Senate seats are held by independents, one of whom, Bernie Sanders, is running for president as a Democrat. One House seat, that of John Boehner, is vacant. The 532 other congressional seats are filled by Democrats and Republicans.
Of the 7,382 state legislators in the United States, all but 27 are either Republicans or Democrats.

The Libertarian Party has never won more than 2 percent of the vote for a congressional seat or in a presidential race. The best result ever for a Libertarian running for a statewide office, according to Wikipedia, was Mike Fellows’ 43 percent against Ed Smith for clerk of the Montana Supreme Court.

Given the contempt in which Americans hold politicians, one might well ask how Republicans and Democrats continue to do so well. In large part, it’s because they write the rules. As Greg Orman, an independent Senate candidate in 2014, put it in an article for Politico, “Rigging the rules continues to be the two major parties’ instinctual reaction to any electoral challenge.”

Among other things, he says, the parties control presidential debates, and they allow major parties to accept donations of up to $830,000 a year from single donors, while independents are limited to $5,400 in each two-year election cycle.

Further back, in the 19th century, the big parties got rid of “fusion” tickets, in which several minor parties coalesced around a single candidate to increase their electoral clout. In those days, politics was like Rollerball, but with fewer rules.

As Jimmie Rex McClellan put it in his 1984 doctoral dissertation, “The United States has resorted to violence, intimidation, incarceration, surveillance, infiltration, harassment, and smear tactics in an effort to subvert its third parties. It has denied the victorious candidates of third parties the opportunity to hold office; it has employed election fraud and the undercounting or non-reporting of votes to minimize their showing at the polls.”

The Republican Party, founded in 1854, managed to elect a president just six years later. That president, Abraham Lincoln, won a race in which each of four political parties won at least 10 percent of the vote.

Within a few years, Republicans and Democrats were conspiring to make this a two-party nation. We haven’t elected a Lincoln since, but Zorro the Cockroach still has a chance.

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