LP03: Party Adopts New Rules

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LP03: Party Adopts New Rules

by Ari Armstrong, April 30, 2003

The most extraordinary claim to come out of the business meeting of the 2003 convention of the Libertarian Party of Colorado was that Rick Stanley, the controversial candidate for U.S. Senate, was illegitimately nominated in 2002. The party's membership voted to change the rules to prevent future confusion.

Last year, Stanley won the contest against challenger Steve D'Ippolito, but only on the second ballot. On the first ballot, D'Ippolito pulled a two-vote margin of victory, with "None of the Above" gaining 19 votes. NOTA was dropped off the second ballot, and Stanley won by 11 votes. However, as some people interpret the rules, the LP can never drop NOTA off the ballot. Thus, last year, Stanley should have been dropped off for the second ballot and a vote held between D'Ippolito and NOTA.

On Saturday, April 5, the members at the business meeting voted to adopt a resolution stating:

"Whereas, in the 2002 Libertarian Party of Colorado state Convention confusion developed over nominations for contested races, and that Article 8 Section 4 of the national Libertarian Party Bylaws requires that the Libertarian Party of Colorado follow the national Bylaws, and that Convention Rule 11 of the national Bylaws mandates that all votes for None of the Above (NOTA) be valid, that is, always on the ballot;

Resolved that the Constitution of the Libertarian Party of Colorado be amended in the following manner: Add the following sentences to the end of Article VII Section 1: "If a majority is not achieved for a nomination, the candidate other than "None of the Above" (NOTA) receiving the lowest number of votes shall be removed from the ballot and the vote shall be taken again. At no time shall NOTA be removed from the ballot, even under suspension of the convention rules. Voting shall continue in this manner until a majority vote has been made for either one of the candidates or NOTA."

However, while I don't mind the change to the party's rules, I'm not convinced Stanley was illegitimately nominated. National's Rule 11 states:

Votes cast for "None of the Above" in voting on the Party's nominees for President and Vice-President, the Party Officers, and at-large members of the National Committee, shall be considered valid. Should a majority of the votes be cast for "None of the Above" in the Presidential or Vice-Presidential balloting, no candidate shall be nominated for that office. Should "None of the Above" be selected for any Party office, that position shall be declared vacant and none of the losing candidates for that position may be selected to fill the vacancy for that term of office.

By my reading, this rule is explicitly limited to the voting that would take place at the national convention.

Personally, I have no problem letting the membership vote a couple or more times on the same list. If this had happened, it's possible that Stanley would have won on a second ballot, if some of the people who initially picked NOTA then picked Stanley over D'Ippolito. It may be unfortunate that the new rules prevent this sort of repeat voting, and members may wish to revisit this issue in future years. It is perhaps ironic that, with the new rules, NOTA may be perceived as a "wasted vote" and thus avoided. Thus, NOTA, an important signal of membership uneasiness, will likely be under-selected under the new rules.

(Given my unpleasant history with Rick Stanley, readers should be especially convinced I think repeat voting is a good idea, even though it likely would have resulted in the nomination of Stanley. I'll offer a humorous aside. In an April 28 e-mail, Stanley forwarded a copy of an article I wrote to his e-mail list. He added, "As much as I detest Ari Armstrong, the point made here is true. Many have wondered over time why I dislike Ari Armstrong. He reminds me of William F Buckley. He will use 5 truths to slip in an obvious lie, but he gets away with it, using this time tested technique. Good article, unfortunatly [sic] from the Pied Piper of Colorado... Onerous laws such as gun laws in Colorado are only removed when we stand up and DEMAND they be removed. Writing about it isn't enough, someone must put themselves at risk to get the law removed. As always, Ari Armstrong won't do that. Freedom must be fought for, not written about. That requires action." In reply, I think it's pretty obvious why Stanley dislikes me: I often criticized him. Interestingly, while Stanley has on several occasions accused me of lying, he has never once been able to point to an actual example of something I've said that wasn't true. By contrast, I've pointed out several things Stanley has said that weren't true. Writing about liberty is quite effective, and it's obvious to anyone who pays attention I do a lot more than that. I have been enormously more effective in removing bad laws than Stanley has been; for instance, I played a significant role in the move to reform Colorado's forfeiture laws, an effort I describe in the following five articles: one, two, three, four, and five. See also my article in the August 2002 Liberty Magazine. As another example, I played a leading role in defeating the Colorado gun tax. By contrast, Stanley takes credit for things he had nothing to do with. Nevertheless, on the whole, I find Stanley considerably more tolerable now that he's no longer in the LP. I do not entirely mind the comparison with the Pied Piper, who said, "I chiefly use my charm / On creatures that do people harm." Like the people in Hamelin, Stanley refused to pay his due as a Libertarian candidate, and thus his supporters left him in droves.)

Two-Year Board Positions

Perhaps the most significant change to the party's structure came with a new rule to elect board members for two-year, staggered terms. Norm Olsen, the sitting Campaigns Director who was elected State Chair the next day, described some of the benefits of the change. The Campaigns Director will be selected more than a year before the major elections, rather than just a few months before them. In general, Olsen argued, staggered terms will create greater continuity on the board. (They will also make for shorter business meetings, somebody pointed out.) Here's the language, added to the beginning of Article IV Section 2 of the Constitution:

The following Officers shall be elected in odd-numbered years: State Chair, Campaigns Director, Public Information Director, Publications Director, and Treasurer. The following Officers shall be elected in even-numbered years: Information Director, Fundraising Director, Outreach Director, and Legislative Director.

On Sunday (April 6), the membership voted to change the title "Public Information Director" to "Media Director" and the title "Information Director" to "Records Director." I favored the change as the old titles are confusing.

There was some confusion, though, with the main proposal. Some people wondered if the change would apply to next year's convention; that is, if only four board members will be elected next year. We finally decided, I think to everybody's satisfaction, that that will indeed be the case (four of the nine board positions will be up for vote in 2004).

This discussion, though, raised an interesting question of when changes to the Constitution go into effect. Outgoing Public Information Director Mike Seebeck thought the changes go into effect when they are registered with the Secretary of State. I wasn't satisfied with that, however, so on Sunday I proposed adding a line to Article XII, Section 1. To the line, "The Constitution may be amended by a two-thirds vote of the members in attendance at any Party Convention," I proposed the addition, "and no amendment shall take effect until after the adjournment of the business meeting." The problem I feared is that an outside group could "stack" the convention, change the rules to suit them, and claim the changes to take effect instantly.

My proposal passed. However, John Lappart suggested requiring a vote on the same change for two consecutive business meetings. Ralph Shnelvar later expressed some sympathy with the idea, on the grounds it would make "stacking" more difficult. However, it would delay needed changes. It might also raise a thorny issue of interpretation. Let's say Lappart's rule passed in Year 1, but in Year 2 the voting members removed the rule and made other changes as well. Would the other changes then be subject to a second vote in Year 3, or would they be effective after the close of the business meeting in Year 2? The answer to that question doesn't strike me as obvious. However, if the answer is, as I suspect, that the changes would take effect in Year 2, that would make the rule pointless in the first place. Still, interesting idea.

Affiliates

Olsen pointed out that local affiliates have the ability to nominate candidates at the convention (though each candidate is still subject to a vote at the convention) and that, in the future, the state party might start a revenue-sharing program with affiliates. Thus, it's important to make sure official affiliates are active. Outgoing State Chair John Berntson was quick to point out, though, that the state party can recognize groups other than affiliates. So the rules for affiliates were tightened up. Article VIII Sections 2 and 3 were amended such that they now read:

Section 2: Every organization so chartered shall ratify the Statement of Principles of the national Libertarian Party. They shall also submit contact information for their officers, who shall include at least a chair and a treasurer, with both being separate people; they shall maintain at least 5 members, publish their bylaws to those members and the state Board of Directors, and file their initial fair campaign practices act filings as necessary.

Section 3: The Board of Directors shall have the power to revoke the affiliate status of any organization by a three-fourths vote of the current Board if said affiliate supports candidates, policies, or positions inconsistent with the national Party Statement of Principles or the State Party Platform; fails to hold an annual meeting with at least five members where officers are elected with contact information and minutes submitted to the state Board of Directors; or fails to report to the proper governmental agencies their fair campaign practices act filings.

Thirty days notice by certified mail shall be given to the Affiliate Representative of the affected affiliate.

Right of Self-Determination

Bill 1142 was passed primarily to hurt the LP. True, as amended the bill is more ridiculous than threatening. Initially, the bill would have required minor parties to pay for an expensive caucus system, an impossible request given the relatively low number of members in third parties. (Many areas have zero members for some of the third parties.)

Now, from what I can tell, the bill mainly forces a tax-funded primary election if more than two Libertarians get more than 30% of the vote at the convention for any given race. (A primary is also forced if somebody petitions into the race.) This is perhaps the stupidest damn law passed by the state legislature this year. There is absolutely no problem with allowing Libertarians to simply hold a run-off vote at the convention to determine the candidate. (Shnelvar raised the concern that Republicans could encourage some of their members to register unaffiliated so that they could vote in a Libertarian primary to screw things up. I'm not convinced that's actually a threat, because it would be easier for the Republicans just to stack the convention.)

(Here's a strange detail of history. 1142 passed third reading in the state senate on April 1. One Democrat, Dan Grossman, was excused for the day. A "yes" vote was recorded for two other Democrats. However, an April 4 e-mail states, "This is Sen. Tupa's aide Matt, and he wanted me to get a message to you about what happened on the floor vote on HB 1142. Sen. Tupa had told you that the bill passed on a party-line vote, and for all intensive purposes this was true. However, a series of accidents prevented the proper vote from being recorded in the journal. One, when the bill came up for a vote, Sen. Isgar had stepped out of the chamber, and according to Senate rules, the failure to voice an active 'no' vote is recorded as a 'yes.' Two, Sen. Gordon's 'no' vote was simply not recorded properly. This error had even happened to Sen. Tupa on another bill that day when the secretary of the senate didn't note that he had voted 'no.' But even if these two Democratic votes had been recorded properly, the bill still had the 18 Republican votes needed for approval.")

In order to try to keep the nominating procedure an in-house policy, the members at the convention passed the following language, creating a new Section 6 in Article VII:

The United States Supreme Court has recognized that the nomination of candidates under political party rules fall under First Amendment Freedom of Association protections and therefore override state laws when such rules so state. Therefore, all rules for nominating candidates are limited to only this Article, and all state laws regarding nominating candidates are to be considered overridden and void. The Party reserves all First Amendment Rights in this regard.

Will this work? It may take a court challenge to find out. Anyway, while I initially disliked the idea, I ended up voting for it in the hopes it would help establish party autonomy.

Voting Members

The original idea was to talk about changes to the rules on Saturday and elect the new board on Sunday. But, predictably, the rules took too long to examine, so the discussion was delayed until Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday I offered another change to the Constitution. As it stood, Article VII, Section 1 read, "Nomination of candidates for offices requiring the vote of all the electors of the state shall be made by a majority vote of Party members present and voting at the Party Convention, or by a committee designated thereby. Nomination of candidates for all other offices may be made in the same way." I inserted a phrase after the comma, "who have been members for at least 90 days."

There was some discussion about the appropriate length of time. I started with 180 days. David Aitken said 90 days happens to mesh with registration requirements for the major-party caucuses. Others wanted the requirement to be a year.

A person can become a member of the Libertarian Party of Colorado in one of two ways: by registering to vote as a Libertarian or by paying dues. The problem is that well-organized outside group could stack the convention and nominate candidates hostile to libertarian ideas. (Fewer than 60 members cast votes for the board elections, meaning that a group of, say, 60 Republicans could have switched affiliation to the LP just before the convention and taken over the entire party.) The change I proposed doesn't change who can be a member or who can run as a Libertarian candidate -- it only changes who can vote to nominate candidates.

It might be a good idea, in a future year, to similarly alter Article IV, Section 1, pertaining to the election of board members, and Article XII, Section 1, pertaining to amending the Constitution.

Removing a Candidate

Seebeck and I each proposed major changes to Article VII, Section 3, pertaining to the revocation of a candidate's certificate of designation (i.e., kicking a candidate off the ballot). Both proposals were voted down. Joe Johnson then proposed the addition of a sentence, which was adopted: "Further evidence may be introduced at the hearing."

I thought my proposed change was a good idea, and I hope the membership considers it again next year. Currently, the section reads, in part, "Any three Party members who believe that a candidate nominated under this Article has violated his or her pledge to support the Statement of Principles may file a written complaint asking a Party Officer to request a special hearing."

The problem with this language is that a candidate might do something completely outrageous that isn't related to the statement of principles. For instance, several of my Libertarian friends have argued that making racist statements does not violate the Statement of Principles. Currently, then, there is no way to remove a candidate who is an overt racist. There is also no way to remove a candidate who, say, spends his time talking about how the Martians are going to attack Earth. It's ridiculous the LP can't remove candidates who are racist or insane.

Another problem became evident at Stanley's hearing: board members can't seem to agree on what constitutes a violation of the Statement of Principles or what kind of violation is sufficient to warrant removal. I think the discussion should revolve around whether the candidate is a suitable representative of the LP, not around arcane theoretical points.

Thus, I proposed the language be changed to read, "Any 15 Party members may file a written complaint asking a Party Officer to request a special hearing concerning the revocation of a candidate's Certificate of Designation."

I do want some barriers to removing a candidate. Under my proposal, there are three barriers. First, 15 party members (not only three) would have to make a complaint. Second, a single member of the board would have to agree to call a hearing. Third, two-thirds of the board would have to vote to remove the candidate.

The only reasonable argument against my proposal is that the members voting at the convention ought to make sure the candidates are acceptable before the vote. But that's an argument for repealing all of Section 3. I think it's important to have a back-up plan. A candidate's worst qualities may not come to light until after the nomination, and a candidate could willfully suppress such information.

I predict that if the LP ever runs a high-level candidate who turns out to be an overt racist, members will leave in droves. I'll be among the first to leave.

Seebeck's failed proposal, on the other hand, didn't strike me as useful. Part of it read, "Neither the complainant nor defendant shall be allowed to question each other, call witnesses, or voice objections to each other's arguments." I made two points against the proposal. First, the board is perfectly capable of setting reasonable rules for a hearing. Second, Seebeck's proposal is overly restrictive and it doesn't allow the board to adapt to the specifics of the case.

(I'll add a minor point here that doesn't fit in any other section: in a separate proposal the word "association" was replaced with the words "political party" in Article I.)

Other Failed Proposals

Here's a list of other proposals that didn't pass:

  • One proposal would have allowed the board to call a special business meeting "when it is necessary to amend this Constitution and/or Bylaws to accommodate State Laws."
  • Another proposal would have said "the Party may from time to time adopt a State Platform consistent with" the Statement of Principles. (Other rules already provide for the creation of a platform, and the proposed section was unnecessary to establish the state LP's platform must conform to national's.)
  • Olsen proposed tighter rules regarding the nomination of candidates by affiliates. I argued such rules are unnecessary, as the nomination is subject to a vote at the convention anyway.

  • Seebeck proposed language stating, "Each candidate is expected to conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism in their campaign..." I argued this is unenforceable.
  • A proposal to change the bylaws to establish the handling of duties when a board member resigns was deemed overly complicated and unnecessary.

So now that you've read through this tedious account of the LP's business meeting, I'm sure you're inspired to attend the next one. Fortunately, the convention was mostly fun events and interesting speakers, but the business meeting was a necessary evil.

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The Colorado Freedom Report--www.freecolorado.com