By Jim Ray
Jonathan Wallace wrote:
The August issue of The Ethical Spectacle will focus on libertarianism. I am looking for articles of any length pro and con.
Well, a dead cow for the ol' great white. :)
I'd like to focus on a particular, easy to defend, aspect of the philosophy, called ballot access laws. Since the FL Supreme Court is sworn to uphold certain constitutions, and since I can provide citations for ALL my numbers from a lawyer (who will get them from the elections bureaucrats) I trust that will be satisfactory. If you want further stuff, I'd certainly be willing to oblige, but since the ballot box is unfairly taken, I'd think that this would be of interest to you, even though it is equally applicable to the Greens, Socialist Workers, Etc...........I fight for their rights, too, because it's a matter of principle. You may print any of this, or all of it, but please contact me for editing permissions.
I swear I am not making *any* of it up. Apologies to Dave Barry. I should mention that Florida is particularly shitty (there IS no other word) on this subject, and I have ABSOLUTELY NO RESPECT for our dim state Supreme Court. Read on to see why.
The (Miami) Herald, June 24, 1996, p. 10A.
Democrat? No. Republican? No. How dare you!
Florida requires small political parties to leap many hurdles to get on the ballot. As a result, many elections give us lucky voters a 'choice' of exactly one candidate.
By Jim Ray [Photo] Jim Ray is chairman of Dade County's Libertarian Party.
Justifiably U.S. voters are demanding more election choices. This is reflected by the constant talk of a "third party," which seems to require a billionaire's financing. Why is a billionaire needed? Because of the number of hurdles that states such as Florida require small political parties to leap to get on the ballot.
As a result, many elections give us lucky Florida voters a "choice" of exactly one candidate.
And if only one candidate does qualify, neither the race nor the name of the candidate appear on the ballot. Even ballots in the former Soviet Union gave voters the "choice" of marking out the one Communist Party candidate's name!
Since the 1974 general election, there have been 201 U.S. House races in Florida. In 63 of them -- more than 31 percent -- only one candidate managed to qualify for the ballot.
- For 63 of the 120 Florida House of Representative races in the 1994 general election, voters had a "choice" of only one ballot-qualified candidate. And this was no fluke. Since the 1974 general election, there have been 1,320 Florida House seats contested. In 652 of them -- more than 49 percent -- only one candidate managed to qualify for the ballot.
- In the 1994 general election, there was one ballot- qualified candidate for 11 of Florida's 23 U.S. House of Representatives races. There were only 21 one-person U.S. House races in the other 49 states combined! Again, 1994 was no fluke.
Is it any wonder that people refuse to go to the polls to pretend to be voting? Or that after every election, someone invariably whines about "low voter turnout"?
When Florida's "major" party candidates for state and federal office pay filing fees, their parties each get a 53 percent cut of those fees. "Minor" parties, however, get nothing from filing fees, 0 percent.
In a 1992 lawsuit, Norman vs. Reed, the Supreme Court held that people have "a right to create and develop new parties" as an exercise of political association rights. Florida's complex system of statist laws regulating "third" parties is a blatant exercise of political protectionism, stunting the growth of any party with the audacity not to be Democrat or Republican.
Many people -- including every registered voter, candidate, lawyer, and Florida Supreme Court justice -- take an oath to uphold the Florida Constitution. The preamble to the Florida Constitution declares that it guarantees equal civil and political rights. Article 1, section 1 states that "all political power is inherent in the people," not in "the political parties that happen to be in power."
The U.S. and Florida constitutions have no "two party" clauses. It is long past time to end the laughable presumption that voters who can easily cope with the choices offered at Burger King are somehow "confused" by more than two choices at the voting booth.
Unfortunately, the Legislature and the courts tend to ignore the very document that they are sworn to uphold. With seemingly no possibility of negative publicity, upholding a system that divides the political spoils must be tempting. I hope that the following hypothetical example will assist these public servants in either keeping or rethinking their oaths:
How would South Florida's Cuban-American community react if Fidel Castro imposed a similarly statist election-law and system in Cuba? He could simply split his Communist Party in two: the "Tax, Borrow, and Spend Revolutionary Welfare-State Party" and the "Borrow, Tax, and Spend Revolutionary Warfare State Party." Then he could translate and impose Florida's election law to favor only these two parties and say: "Trade with Cuba! I have instituted a democracy just like Florida's!" He would not be lying, either.
A duopoly is not very different from a monopoly when it comes to maintaining an iron grip on power, especially when the duopoly also seems to control most of the news that people read or hear.
As you can see, Libertarians like me take sworn oaths seriously.
Wall Street Journal, December 28, 1995
Take a Reality Check On Gingrich's Book
[Letter to Editor]
Your Dec. 11 editorial "Politics! Washington Shocked!" says "it's OK for Al Gore or Pat Moynihan to publish books, but Newt sold too many copies." Time for a reality check. You know and I know that Newt hadn't sold a single copy of his ghost-written book when he accepted a suspiciously huge advance from a right-wing executive. Whether or not his deal was in "technical" compliance with House rules, it looked crooked to me.
Speaker Gingrich exhibits a certain tin ear for recent political history that I find ironic coming from a history professor. Recall: Newt advanced his career after exposing a book deal by former Speaker Jim Wright involving a suspiciously huge purchase of ghost-written books by a left- wing union. That deal may also have been in "technical" compliance with House rules (frankly, I forget). That deal also looked crooked to me.
Of course, what do I know? I'm just a partisan Libertarian. The unfair ballot-access laws that the Democrats and Republicans love so much haven't given my tiny political party the chance to "exploit national office for personal gain." I wonder why we Libertarians scare them so?
James M. Ray Coral Gables, Fla.
Now, here's this year's version for the Herald. I won't even mention what they covered instead of printing this, for fear of overloading you with sarcasm...
On Thursday, Jan. 8, Secretary of State Sandra Mortham released a report called the Florida Voters Guide. It is a compilation of polls regarding Floridians' views concerning the electoral process. The leading comment as to reasons people don't go out and vote?
DISLIKE CANDIDATES/NO CHOICES with 17 percent.
LACK OF INTEREST was second with 12 percent.
Regarding low voter turnout, the leading comment was: VOTE MAKES NO DIFFERENCE with 26 percent. The second leading reply was DO NOT LIKE THE CANDIDATES with 20 percent.
Given the current "competition" between the Republicans and Democrats, these responses come as no surprise. In the 1996 general election, the two major parties failed to field competing candidates for 61 of the 120 State House seats to be filled, 8 of the 20 State Senate seats to be filled, 3 of the 23 U.S. House seats, 15 of the 19 Public Defender positions, and 15 of the 19 State Attorney positions. Voters had NO CHOICE WHATSOEVER in how to fill 102 out of 201 non-county offices!
For a little historical perspective, from the 1974 through 1994 general elections, there were 1320 State House seats to be filled; for 650 of those seats, the major parties failed to field competing candidates. Voters had no choice. From the 1974 through 1994 general elections, there were 201 U.S. House seats to be filled; the major parties failed to offer competing candidates for 63 of those seats. Voters had no choice. From the 1984 (not 1974) through 1994 general elections, there were 147 State Senate seats to be filled; for 61 of those seats, the major parties failed to compete with one another. Voters had no choice. The trend will continue until the law changes, and unfortunately it must be changed by those who currently benefit greatly from it.
Considering the Republicans' and Democrats' continual failure to compete with one another, there is no legitimate reason for Florida ballot-access laws to suppress voters' choice and political competition. Minor parties and independent candidates must collect valid petition signatures from three percent of ALL registered voters in the area of an office sought, just to get on the ballot for a given office. If they have the money to pay the qualifying fee, they must pay it also. Regardless, the law forces them to collect stacks of signatures from harried potential voters on confusingly worded petitions.
Democrats and Republicans, on the other hand, get automatic ballot placement -- without having to collect any petition signatures -- if they can pay the qualifying fee. If they cannot, they too must collect petition signatures -- but only from 3% of the voters registered with their party in the area of the office sought. This is blatant, unjustifiable protection of political turf through discrimination against political minorities. Voters are the ones who suffer.
Gathering these signatures, long before an election, is not exactly a popularity-enhancing way to start political campaigns. People just want to be left alone, especially by politicians. Libertarians like me, who want more than anything else to leave other people alone (and be left alone ourselves) are instead forced by these unreasonable signature requirements to act out-of-character and pester other folks to sign something. [Note: As naturally-generous folks, we Libertarians would love to share our joyful petition-gathering experience next time with the politicians and judges who write and uphold these laws. E-mail me for details.]
The Democrats and Republicans are blessed with millions of registered voters, AMPLE finances (about which the less said the better...) and plenty of media visibility. Obviously, they are either unwilling or unable to recruit and field competing candidates about half the time. Florida voters are robbed of what an election is supposed to be -- an opportunity to choose between or among MORE THAN ONE candidate for an elective office.
There is still no two-party clause in the Constitution. A 'choice' of one thing is still no choice at all. For the sake of meaningful elections, our state legislature should rise above partisan self-interest and political protectionism and immediately reduce petitioning burdens on minor parties and independents. Until the Florida legislature does that, we can expect low election turnout, more one-horse "races," more voter apathy, more recognition that our votes don't matter, and more dissatisfaction with the "choice" offered on general election day. Many people would happily vote for "None Of The Above" if it were offered on our ballots, which is essentially what many of the voters who stay at home on election day are already doing.
The temptation is strong to renew my previous call (Herald, June 24, 1996, p. 10A.) for Fidel Castro to split Cuba's Communist Party in half, translate and enact Florida's ballot laws, call the resulting mess "democracy," and call for open trade with the U.S. I will try to be serious, instead. For starters, at the very least, let's demand that politicians immediately cut the petitioning burden in half for minor parties and independents. Let's raise Florida from having the second worst petitioning standard to something closer to the middle of the pack among American states. Let's increase the possibility that we can infuse the electoral process with some new blood, new ideas, and new faces.
Regards, Jim Ray