Bill Would Hobble Minor Parties, Representatives Say

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Bill Would Hobble Minor Parties, Representatives Say

by Ari Armstrong, January 31, 2003

Representatives from four of Colorado's minor parties held a press conference January 27 with Democratic legislators Ron Tupa and Paul Weissmann to challenge a Republican bill they fear will hobble minor parties in the state.


Former candidates from Colorado's minor parties attend a January 27 press conference to oppose bill 1142. L-r: Alison "Sunny" Maynard (Green), Ralph Shnelvar (LP), Victor Good (Reform), John Berntson (LP), Norm Olsen (LP), Bo Schaffer (LP), Doug Campbell (American Constitution), and David Aitken (LP).

Bill 1142 would require minor parties to hold precinct meetings and meet other requirements of the major parties. However, Doug Campbell of the American Constitution Party pointed out his party doesn't have the membership to meet those requirements. "I don't have enough people in the whole state to fill the precincts even in Adams County," he said. Alison "Sunny" Maynard said it's unclear what the penalties are if the requirements are not met. "All these filing requirements -- there's no way we'll be able to keep up. And I think that's the point of the bill," she added.

Tupa said two bills in 1995 and 1998 gave minor parties easier ballot access. Bill 1022 from '95 was passed in response to a successful lawsuit filed by LP candidate Judd Ptak challenging the disproportionate signature requirements for state legislative races. Bill 1110 in '98 allowed minor parties that meet certain requirements to nominate candidates according to their own rules (without collecting signatures).


Sen. Ron Tupa and Rep. Paul Weissmann speak out against bill 1142.

Tupa fears the new bill will "probably end up in the demise" of minor parties. Referring to the bill's Republican sponsors, Tupa said, "This is a party that says competition is a good thing -- except when it comes to elections." He added, "Whenever you have more choices it's better for the voters."

John Berntson, Chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, noted "at least 80,000 people voted for a minor party last year." These people "would be disenfranchised" if 1142 were to pass. "We're supposed to believe people want only two choices when it comes to elections? What problem is this bill supposed to solve?" he asked. Berntson said the procedures appropriate for the massive Republican and Democratic parties are simply not workable or appropriate for the minor parties.

Berntson said he thinks some Republicans are pushing the bill because "they think we steal votes that belong to them." But "this is what democracy is supposed to be about: many voices, not just two voices." Ralph Shnelvar, the 2002 LP candidate for governor, later pointed out the Greens also "take" votes from the Democrats. And Maynard added minor parties are "undoubtedly bringing people to the polls who would not be there otherwise." Doug Campbell, U.S. Senate candidate and chair of the American Constitution Party, said, "To assume that all Libertarian votes would go to Republicans is ludicrous."

Victor Good, who ran for Congress with the Reform Party, said, "We should not be going backward, we should be going forward." He said other alternatives like instant runoff voting would be more appropriate.

Campbell said current law establishes a "reasonable procedure" for minor parties to run candidates. Absent the minor party law, he said, minor parties would have to gather around 279,000 signatures to run a full slate of candidates.

Weissmann pointed out numerous state legislative races would be unopposed without a minor party candidate.

Norm Olsen, Campaigns Director for the state LP as well as a 2002 candidate for Congress, later said he is forming a committee to oppose 1142. Citizens for Political Choice (2221 East Street, Suite 203, Golden, CO 80401, 303.277.9967) will raise funds, train speakers, and distribute literature, Olsen wrote in an e-mail message. The LP has issued two press releases on the matter.

In a January 28 e-mail, Berntson reported 1142 was delayed because "the Secretary of State's office wished to review the bill with Rep. Crane," the bill's sponsor. "Expect it to show up on the schedule again next week," he added.

Analysis

I'm not sure why the Republicans didn't simply try to repeal the minor party law and return to a system of collecting signatures. They could have left in the threshold for when a party becomes a "major party." 1142 is simply unworkable. There is no way for minor parties to comply.

I find it ironic that the Libertarians are suddenly extolling the virtues of democracy. Usually, libertarians argue individual rights should always trump majority rule. Of course, the mere popular selection of candidates does not directly involve the issue of individual rights.

The problem with the current system, of course, is that a candidate wins with a plurality, not a majority. This gives the "wasted vote" concern some legitimacy. For example, let's say 51% of the voters prefer Candidate A to Candidate B, but 3% of those people prefer Candidate C to Candidate A. If they vote for Candidate C, Candidate B will win, the least desirable option. Thus, the 3% faces the dilemma of voting their conscience or voting for the lesser of evils.

While the Greens have made a larger splash on the national scene, in Colorado Libertarians run by far the most candidates of the minor parties. True, some people who vote for Libertarian candidates would not otherwise vote for any candidate. Still, my sense is that of the remaining votes more would otherwise go to the Republican than to the Democrat. My best guess is the ratio is roughly 2-1.

The best argument for the status quo is that it empowers minorities. To return to the above example, the 3% can pressure Candidate A to work toward favored reforms. In practice, though, I don't think minor-party voters effectively use such strategies.

Instant runoff voting (IRV) would resolve the "wasted vote" problem by letting voters rank candidates. Thus, the 3% would rank Candidate C first, Candidate A second, and Candidate B last, thus helping to elect Candidate A. But IRV also brings with it a number of problems.

IRV would disempower minority blocks of voters. A Jesse Ventura-type of victory would be impossible. No longer could a minor-party candidate win with 34% of the vote.

I'm not convinced IRV would help minor parties even in the short run. At least now some media sources report the vote totals of minor parties. With IRV, the media might opt to report only the final tally and completely ignore the minor-party candidates.

Of course, if the alternative to IRV is the elimination of minor parties, I suppose the former is preferable.

Perhaps the fight over 1142 will revitalize the LP -- especially if the bill is defeated -- and that would be a good outcome.

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