Why America needs a Third Party

by Thom Holmes
Chairman, Constitution Party of Oklahoma

Even the Afghans have more Choices

If you lived in Afghanistan and voted in their 2004 Presidential Elections you would have had 18 choices on the ballot for president. Strangely enough, some Americans had only 2 choices for President of the United States in 2004. Some states may have had 3 or 4 people to pick from on their ballots, but none of them had 18 choices!

I’m from Oklahoma where none of the “third parties” were on the ballot in 2004, so my neighbors and I were given only ONE more choice than Saddam Hussein gave the people of Iraq. Does that sound like we live in the most free nation on earth? Not to me it doesn’t.

It seems that our elected public servants spend more of their time and our money to ensure “Free and Open Elections” in Afghanistan and Iraq than they do here at home!

If we truly live in a land of Freedom and Opportunity, then we should be able to vote for any political party that wants to run candidates! So why aren’t we being allowed to vote for someone other than a democrat or republican?

At the risk of being killed, millions upon millions of Iraqis walked great distances and stood in long lines for hours on Election Day. Remember seeing their purple fingers displayed so proudly? But across this nation about half of the eligible voters do not even bother to vote. Something is VERY wrong with this picture!

Encourage Voter Participation in the process

This brings me to Reason #1 for Why America Needs a Third Party: To encourage voter participation and citizen involvement in the governing process.

Doesn’t it just make sense that more choices on the ballot would make it worth American’s time to go vote? Having third party candidates on the ballot certainly would not discourage voters from going to the polls!

The vast majority of people have no idea that the Republicans and Democrats have crippled the “third parties,” from participating in our electoral process. You might ask, “How do they do that?” Let me explain.

In most states, all parties except the two parties in power must collect thousands upon thousands of signatures to qualify their candidates for a place on the ballot. In Oklahoma, we need over 70,000 signatures and some states require even more. This forces 3rd parties to spend most of their time, money and manpower just to obtain the ticket to enter the contest. By the time we get over that first hurdle and start campaigning, our resources have been exhausted and we start the race way behind.

No Competition Please

The simple truth is that the two major parties do not want any competition. If they ALLOWED these “third party” candidates on the ballot, someone might actually vote for them. As far fetched as it may seem, a “third party” candidate might actually get elected!

Some people think that third parties have never elected anyone to office so it doesn’t really make any difference. This simply is not true. In November 2006 a Constitution Party candidate was elected to the State Legislature. Rick Jore of Montana won a seat in the State House of Representatives with 56% of the vote!

Last year in a special election for Congress, Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen border patrol group and a member of our party, actually got the most votes on election day but then after all the absentee votes were counted the race was won by a republican.

Many people aren’t aware that the republican party began as a new party in 1856 and only 4 years later, Abraham Lincoln was elected president in a 4 way race. Back in 1860 the two major parties of the day were the Whigs and the Democrats. Lincoln received less than 40% of the popular vote and his name did not even appear on the ballot in 9 states, including Texas.

In recent years, Jesse Ventura won the Minnesota Governor’s race in the late 1990’s as a member of the Reform party. You would see even more minor party candidates elected if they didn’t have to spend so much time and money just to get on the ballot!

Competition for our votes benefits us all

Reason # 2: Competition yields a Superior Product; in this case, competition would give us better elected officials and better government.

One of the things that makes America great is competition. But there is very little competition on Election Day. Surely you remember hearing that roughly 95% of all incumbent candidates win re-election. That wouldn’t be the case if there were fair election laws that encouraged competition for your vote.

Third party candidates for public office were not always subjected to burdensome ballot access laws, these restrictions only began to appear around 1900. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that as voter choice has diminished over the past century we have also witnessed the deterioration of our beloved constitutional republic.

The fact is that today’s U.S. voter has less choice for whom to vote than our great-grandfathers did. In the 1896 general election, every single congressional district in the nation had at least two candidates on the ballot. But in recent years, between 50 and 75 of incumbent Congressmen in the U.S. do not even face an opponent on the November ballot. This lack of competition allows them to be reelected without even campaigning. Is it any wonder Congress pays less attention to the people of their districts than to the special interests who pump millions of dollars into their campaign war chests?

Creating Obstacles to Competition

As bad as the congressional races are, voter choice is even more limited for state legislative races in all 50 of the states. There are roughly 6900 seats at stake in state houses across the United States, yet during each election cycle over 2500 of these races, an astounding 35 to 40 percent, typically have no competition on the ballot.

The blame for the declining number of choices on our ballots can be laid squarely at the feet of state legislators. Many of them have made it far too difficult for “third party” and independent candidates to get on the ballot.

Originally, there were no ballot access restrictions whatsoever in the U.S. ... no petitions, no filing fees, no declarations of candidacy. The government had no control over who could run for office, or whom voters could vote for. This is because before the 1890’s, the government did not print the ballots. Instead, parties printed them, and any voter was free to make his own ballot or to alter a party-printed ballot.

In 1924 it was still relatively easy for a presidential candidate to get on the ballot by collecting signatures equal to one-fourth of 1% of the votes cast in the previous election. My, how things have changed!

In 2004, the number of valid ballot access signatures required for a third party to have its candidates’ names listed in all 50 states has risen to nearly 2 million signatures, which is 8 times the percentage required in 1924.

But Voters want Choice

You are probably not aware that 25% of the voters across our country are registered as either independent or as members of a “third party.” Over the last 10 years this has been the largest growing segment of voter registrations, which illustrates that voters are tired of the same 2 choices and are hungry for more competition on Election Day.

Reason # 3 for Why America Needs a Third Party is because they champion issues that are virtually ignored by the two parties in power. Here are a few examples of ideas that were made popular by third parties and eventually enacted by our government.

A Woman’s Right to Vote was 1st introduced in 1872 by the Prohibition Party and it remained in their platform for the next 48 years. It wasn’t until 1916 that the two political parties in power began to consider recognizing A Woman’s Right to Vote.

And who can forget the charts and graphs used by Reform Party Presidential Candidate Ross Perot to continually harp on the budget deficit in the 1992 election? The end result was that Congress finally balancing the federal budget just a few short years later.

Dispelling the Myths

There are several myths about having third party candidates on the ballot that I’d like to dispel. First, it is a myth that there are dozens of people who want to run for office. The state of Tennessee only requires 25 signatures for an independent candidate to get on the ballot for any office, and no filing fee is required. But there have been several elections in the last 20 years with no independent candidates for the U.S. House on the Tennessee ballot.

It is also a myth that numerous candidates on the ballot can cause voters to become confused. In the 2003 California Governor’s Recall Election, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the race without a runoff, even though there were 134 names on the ballot for governor. If voters weren’t confused by 134 candidates then I think you and I can handle more than 2 choices on Election Day.

On the other hand, in the 2000 presidential race between Bush and Gore, Florida voters claimed to be confused simply by the configuration of the ballot that contained very few names. These two recent, very high profile races prove that voters are less confused by numerous candidates than they are by “hanging chads.”

Three Simple Reasons

In summary, the 3 reasons American Needs a Third Party are:

  • To increase voter participation and citizen involvement in government, bringing about a return to “government by the people.”
  • Competition yields a superior product, so we would have better elected officials and better government.
  • Third party candidates expand the topics of the campaign debate and ideas that are virtually ignored by the 2 parties in power would be championed by third party candidates.

Given a level playing field, third parties can play a significant role in restoring our Constitutional Republic and help reduce voter apathy, which is one of the major reasons we no longer have a government that is responsive to the people.

Ballot access restrictions are a plague on one of our most cherished freedoms, the right to vote! Each of you is urged to work with us to build the Constitution Party so you will have the freedom to vote for third party candidates that share your values and hopes for your children and grandchildren.

by Thom Holmes

(Mr Holmes is writing on behalf of the political party he supports. Rather obviously the same arugments can be raised by any political party, whether on the left or right of the Political Spectrum. This article is an excellent example of where the left and right have common ground -Editor)

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