April 04, 2004
Pity the poor third parties

Third parties struggle to make ballot

For whatever reason, three smaller political parties are having a tough time getting enough petition signatures to make sure their candidates are on the November ballot.

The struggle with the petition drives comes after low voter support of Green and Libertarian candidates in 2002 prevented them from getting automatic placement on the 2004 ballot. Meanwhile, the 5-year-old Texas Reform Party is making its second effort to petition onto the ballot, having failed in 2000.

To get on the ballot without a petition drive, a party must receive at least 2 percent of the vote in the preceding governor's race or 5 percent in another statewide race.

Libertarians have achieved that minimum seven times since 1980. Since at least 1994, the party benefited when Democrats skipped some statewide races, leaving a void on the ballot. That also helped the Greens in 2000 after they first petitioned their way onto the ballot and got a high enough percentage in some races for a guaranteed position in 2002.

But in 2002, Democrats ran a full slate of statewide candidates. Though they lost every race, they absorbed enough voters to prevent the Greens and Libertarians from reaching the threshold.

This year, parties or independent candidates seeking ballot status must collect 64,076 signatures, or 1 percent of all the Texas votes cast in the 2000 presidential election.

So how are they doing?

The petition process started March 10, the day after the Democratic and Republican primaries. Green and Libertarian party officials say they are behind schedule in getting the required number of signatures, which must be from eligible voters who did not vote in either party's primary last month.

Earl Gerhard, co-chairman of the Harris County Green Party, estimated that his party's volunteers are collecting less than half the signatures they need each day to reach the goal.

Though he expects the pace to pick up as the deadline approaches, Gerhard said he is not certain the party will have a place on this year's ballot.

Gerhard said many don't sign the petition out of concern that supporting a third party may take away votes from a Democrat, as it did in 2000 when Nader's Green Party candidacy was believed to have taken votes from Democrat Al Gore.

"The whole political thing about the third parties being spoilers have caused interest to wane," Gerhard said. "It has taken a little more energy and drive to get going."

Greens are split this year about Nader's independent candidacy. Some Greens are collecting petitions for Nader while trying to get the Green Party candidates on the ballot.

"We are pushing the same positions as Ralph Nader," said volunteer Don Cook, a retired parole officer in Houston. "The more candidates talking about universal health care, the financing of campaigns and the power of corporations, the better."

Gerhard said Greens are not worried about the future of their party in Texas.

"We're young, and we realize we're not going to get people elected," Gerhard said. "But the fact that we're out there, organizing and getting involved means the future will look better."

David DeLamar, chairman of the Texas Libertarian Party, expressed more concern about the ramifications of failing to make the ballot.

"It would mean we would have to start another costly petition drive in 2006, which would be a big setback," DeLamar said.

That sound you hear is my heart breaking for them, especially for the Greens. I've voted for a couple of Greens and Libs in the past against otherwise unopposed Republicans, but I doubt I'll do that again any time soon.

How about you-know-who? How's it going for him?

Kevin Zeese, spokesman for Nader's campaign, said he is confident Nader will get on the ballot. Besides some Greens, Nader is getting help from some members of the Texas Reform Party, which is mounting a petition drive of its own.

"We have gotten more volunteers, more media and more money than we had in 2000," Zeese said. "We feel like we have the resources to make it happen."

Pfui. Even though his presence on this ballot won't make any difference in the overall election, I hope he falls short. And may the same be true everywhere else.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 04, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

The 2000 election fiasco, Nader's spoiler role and its effect on third parties are just evidence that we must have transferrable votes or instant runoff voting. Until then, people will view a third party vote as a waste, and the broken status quo will remain.

The founders didn't intend to create a two party system, but with winner-take-all elections and elections where the winner can have less than 50% of the vote (no president has received a majority of the popular vote since 1988), that's exactly what we have.

Posted by: Tim on April 5, 2004 8:42 AM