For many years now, the Republican and Democrat parties have enacted and enforced an array of rules and restrictions on the ability of third-party candidates to run for public office. The nature of the restrictions varies from state to state, but the most notable of them involves petitioning requirements. Third-party candidates are required to secure the signatures of a minimum number of registered voters on petitions as a condition for running for office. Most of the time, the people signing the petition are not even acquainted with the person who wishes to run for office. They just sign because they think, rightly, that anyone should be free to run for public office.
In some states, the signature requirement is somewhat easy to manage. In other states, however, it is virtually impossible to achieve owing to the large number of signatures needed to get onto the ballot. That’s when the third-party candidate must turn to professional signature-gatherers, but they usually charge an arm and a leg to secure the signatures. In fact, by the time third-party candidates pay the professional petition-gatherers, their campaign funds are oftentimes depleted, thereby hampering their ability to compete against the candidates of the two major parties.
As someone who has gathered signatures in the past, I can attest to the arduousness of this task. For one thing, it’s difficult to find locations where one can encounter large numbers of registered voters. Most private businesses do not want their customers being accosted by signature-gatherers and thus will not grant permission to gather signatures in front of their establishments. And then there is the demeaning task of asking people to sign a petition to support a candidate they have never heard of, a job that has obviously been made more difficult with Covid.
What’s the rationale for this tremendous electoral hurtle? Republicans and Democrats say that voters will get confused if there are too many candidates on the ballot. That, of course, doesn’t say much for the state’s educational system.
But is it true?
Let’s look at the gubernatorial recall election in California. There are 46 candidates on the ballot seeking to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Yes, you read that right. 46!
And Republicans and Democrats feel that voters need to be protected from confusion by inhibiting the ability of a few third-party candidates from appearing being on the ballot?
With all due respect, that’s ridiculous. If people can handle 46 candidates, then what’s the problem with letting anyone run for public office, without any signature restrictions whatsoever?
In fact, we can go back into California recall election history to come up with an even better example. In 2003, there was another recall election involving the state’s governor, Gray Davis. Take a wild guess at how many candidates were on the ballot in that election. 135! That’s right—135 candidates to choose from. That was the election in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor.
If people can handle 135 people on the ballot, then why can’t they handle a few third-party candidates on the ballot?
Those two California recall elections show the utter fraud of ballot-access barriers. Such barriers have nothing to do with protecting voters from confusion, as Republicans and Democrats maintain. Instead, they have everything to do with protecting Democrat and Republican candidates from competition. The ballot-barrier requirements are nothing more than an anti-democratic protection racket designed to keep Democrats and Republicans in power.
Now that the much-vaunted Republican-Democrat campaign to establish democracy in Afghanistan has turned into a gigantic debacle, wouldn’t this would be a good time to establish genuine democratic elections here at home? Abolishing signature requirements and other ballot-barrier restrictions would bring competition and excitement to America’s electoral system, especially through the introduction of new ideas. Political competition would help to bring an end to the Republican-Democrat monopolistic hold on political power and would help move our nation in a different, better direction. Which is precisely why both Republicans and Democrats will continue to oppose the idea.