Turnabout

Can someone explain this to me? Maybe start with general principles of fairness in election law, and then work your way up — or down — to this?

Colorado Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes’ disaster of a 2010 campaign could turn into a four-year embarrassment for state Republicans. It’s been one blunder after another for Maes since he barely won the August 10 primary over former Rep. Scott McInnis, whose campaign was done in by a plagiarism scandal. But if Maes fails to get 10 percent of the vote on election day, his legacy won’t be the U.N. bike plot warning or the tall tale of working undercover as a cop in Kansas. It will be leaving Republicans with minor party status in Colorado until 2014.

After weeks of declines in the polls, the TPM Poll Average now shows Maes coming in at 9.3%.

As The Denver Post reported back in September, minor party status means that Republicans wouldn’t appear at the top of the ballot with the Democrats in 2012 and 2014. Instead, they’ll be listed down with the Libertarian, Green Party and other third-party candidates…

In addition to the effects of ballot position, minor party status might hurt the finances of Republicans running at the state level. According to the Associated Press, a “minor party cannot raise money for both primary and general elections unless it has more than one candidate in any primary race,” whereas a major party must hold a primary, even if a candidate is unopposed.

A primary is a nifty way of raising money, especially when some candidates can’t have one. Unfair? Arguably. But then there’s this, which I’m so sure makes up for it:

Still, state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams told the AP that things would be fine. “[H]e believes the state Legislature will change the law to avoid the embarrassment of treating Democrats differently than Republicans, especially with a presidential election.”

See? Everything’s right again with the universe. (And no, it won’t be the first time states have bent the rules for the major parties.)

Anyone who wonders where the two-party system comes from is either ignorant or just being disingenuous. It comes from election law, which is applied strictly to minor parties, and leniently to major ones. And even when it’s applied straight up, the clear intent is to entrench the two-party system forever and ever.

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17 thoughts on “Turnabout

  1. The purpose of the system is the preservation of the system. What makes this even more frustrating is the notion that treating Republicans and Democrats differently is “embarassing,” while treating other parties differently is somehow not. Realistically, moving the GOP down a few slots on the ballot shouldn’t make a lick of a difference other than to make low-information voters think for half a second while standing in the booth and maybe consider another option. This, of course, cannot be countenanced if it means one of the two major parties perceives that its ego is being hurt.

    What I do not understand is why, in a country where virtually every voter is at least minimally literate (functional literacy being an entirely separate issue, of course), where we do not have a parliamentary system, and which purportedly (if absolutely without merit) prides itself on an informed electorate, we find it necessary or appropriate to have party labels on the ballots themselves.

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    • @Mark Thompson, we need party labels at least for legislative positions because arguably the most important vote a legislator casts is the caucus vote. We don’t have a parliamentary system, but it’s difficult to run a legislative agenda (in a legislature of any significant size) without a leadership structure, which requires a majority caucus.

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      • @Trumwill, Regardless of whether that’s true, nothing would ever prevent a candidate from promoting himself as a member of a given party or as someone who would caucus with a given group. Besides, ultimately there’s nothing that says that the legislature needs to be divided primarily along the existing major party caucus lines. Indeed, I’d argue that putting party names on ballots simply helps ensure that the existing two party system remains the primary measure of division in the legislature.

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        • @Mark Thompson, the formal party system provides barriers-to-exit for politicians once elected to be bribed into switching caucuses. Politicians do change parties, but it’s uncommon enough to be a Big Deal. It would be less so with a more informal party structure.

          There’s nothing that says that the current parties must be divided among existing lines, but the system is set up for there to be two major factions, which is why historically when a new party has stepped up it ended up either gulping up an existing party or fading into the woodwork.

          If we want a multiparty system, we’re going to have to change the system a lot more than simply stripping party identification from ballots. My home city doesn’t have partisan elections, but there are almost always two major factions.

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        • @Mark Thompson, I don’t think I have faith in the voters to actually make it work. I see all sorts of tomfoolery to confuse voters as to where the candidates stand.

          At least with the party structure, Republicans and Democrats have an incentive to “police their own” and nominate the strongest possible candidates (either in terms of general election probabilities or to best represent their point-of-view. Obviously, the current system is not flawless in this regard, but I think on the whole it’s probably better than the alternative. I think.

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  2. On the one hand, I don’t like changing the rules to fit a particular situation.

    On the other hand, the rule in this particular case is particularly bad. The metric that they are using to determine a “major party” and a “minor one” using only the governor’s race sets up situations like this one where a party could lose its status despite winning a large number of races.

    In this case, the GOP may have nobody to blame but themselves for nominating such a weak candidate, but there was a situation in Montana many years back where the Democratic candidate simply died too late to be replaced.

    If I were King of Colorado, I probably would redraft the rules to make it based on seats in the legislature. That way third parties could more easily build themselves up on that basis and it would avoid situations like this one. Generally speaking, I think that election law changes like this (and parliamentary laws, for that matter) should not take effect until two years out or the next general election (Massachusetts Democrats, I’m looking at you), though that could give the Republicans what they want (good placing for 2012), which makes this a tempting fix to suit the particular situation, which of course brings me back to the first objection.

    In any event, they do need to find a better way for whenever it takes effect, whether for 2012 or 2014 or whenever. On the other hand, there’s no question in my mind that fundraising rules ought to be applied equally to both “major” and “minor” parties. If anything, minor parties should be given a leg up.

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    • @Trumwill, “If I were King of Colorado, I probably would redraft the rules to make it based on seats in the legislature.”

      If Maes fails to win the necessary 10%, it’s a pretty safe bet that the definition for “major party” will be changed. This is Colorado, after all, the easiest state in the country for getting initiatives on the ballot. If the legislature fails to act in the next session, or is blocked by a governor’s veto, it’s an almost sure thing that the proposal will be put directly to the people at the first opportunity. And a fairly safe bet that it would pass.

      Myself, I would base it on number of registered voters. That way a new party could receive “major party” status, and the benefits that go with it, before they start winning elections.

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  3. The ballot gerrymandering is one aspect of this story, actual gerrymandering to protect parties and their safe seats is another.

    But the other big story is that Colorado is going Democrat. That’s huge. It was unthinkable five years ago. What gives? It can’t all be vengeful Hispanic voters (and non-voter voters, who have probably gone home in droves in this economy anyway).

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  4. “Anyone who wonders where the two-party system comes from is either ignorant or just being disingenuous. It comes from election law, which is applied strictly to minor parties, and leniently to major ones. And even when it’s applied straight up, the clear intent is to entrench the two-party system forever and ever.”

    Would you say this is the exact thing that happens with the corps vis-a-vis miscellaneous subsidies, “safety regulations” and tax policy?

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  5. “Anyone who wonders where the two-party system comes from is either ignorant or just being disingenuous. It comes from election law, which is applied strictly to minor parties, and leniently to major ones.”

    There are more fundamental reasons too. Almost every democracy has two big parties, one center left and one center right. Only the US is quite so brutally unfair to minor parties. The only exception I know of is Ireland, which still has two big parties, but they’re almost completely indistinguishable.

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