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I’m not that worried about the Green Party effect in Texas

It’s not nothing, but it’s unlikely to be much.

Texas House Bill 2504, passed along party lines by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature in May and signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in June, lowers the threshold that minor political parties — defined in the law as parties that nominate by convention, as opposed to by primary — must meet to have their candidates appear on the ballot.

Under the new law, a third party’s candidates can qualify to appear on the ballot if any one of them got 2 percent of the vote in a statewide race in the last five elections. Previously, a third party’s candidates earned a spot on the ballot if any one of them won 5 percent of the vote in any of the most recent statewide elections.

The law also requires minor parties to pay a filing fee to ensure their candidate actually appears on the ballot — or collect the required amount of signatures under existing Texas ballot access laws within a certain amount of time. (For 2020, under state statute, the number of signatures would be more than 83,000, the equivalent of 1 percent of the total votes cast in the last governor’s race). Previously, filing fees had only been required for the two major political parties.

Republican supporters of HB 2504 say it bolsters the electoral system by both making it easier for smaller parties to have access to the ballot and by evening the playing field for such access.

But a far greater number of critics — including political scientists, Democratic Party and progressive strategists, as well as the two most prominent third parties in Texas — say the bill is designed to pull votes from Democratic candidates by making it easier for Green Party candidates, who are more likely to attract disaffected Democratic voters, to appear on the ballot.

The result could prove to make a defining difference in a handful of closely watched races in an increasingly purple Texas, including its U.S. Senate race where Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election, a number of state House races and possibly even the presidential race — although Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein won 0.8 percent of the vote in 2016 and only 0.3 percent in 2012.

“When you hear about Republicans trying to get Green Party candidates on the ballot, it really makes you wonder what’s going on. Because, obviously, they’re not aligned — today’s GOP is not engaged at all with issues dear to the Green Party,” said Paul Brace, a political science professor at Rice University, in Houston, who specializes in state politics. “And the reality is that allowing the Greens on the ballot helps Republicans, and so there’s good reason to be cynical about this.”

Most of what I would have to say in response to this I said in this piece, where I discussed HB2504. I’ll add two things to that here. One is that third party voters in a given race have, I believe, an assortment of reasons for doing what they did. One conclusion I drew from that is that downballot statewide candidates – both Republicans and Democrats – would probably benefit from more resources being invested in their races. Republicans have had a very strong brand in Texas this century, though there are signs it is weakening. Democrats have a chance to improve their brand, and if they do I believe they’ll be better positioned to retain voters who might have strayed to a Libertarian or Green candidate in previous elections.

The other thing is that the real issue with third party candidates – and independents, and to a much smaller degree write-ins, too – is that they enable a situation where someone can win with less than a majority of the vote. If someone can get to the magical fifty percent plus one, then who cares if the ballot also included Libertarians, Greens, Bull Mooses, or the Very Silly Party. When a candidate does win with just a plurality, as I said above it’s often hard to determine what the “other” voters were thinking, or what they might have done in a two-person race. I get the conventional wisdom that making it easier for Greens to qualify is likely to benefit Republicans, if it benefits anyone. I certainly believe that the Republicans believe that, and passed this bill for that reason. We are in a situation where control of the State House could come down to one race, and there are certainly going to be plenty of close ones this cycle. I don’t dismiss the possibility that we’ll all be cursing the fates and the Greens next November. But I’m also not going to over-value it, either. If we Dems do our jobs, we’ll maximize our returns. That’s the best way to think about it.

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  1. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    I think the impact of the Green Party in 2020 is going to be extremely limited. Their few voters are the kind of folks who will find anyway possible to not support the Democratic anyway. Were talking about tiny numbers and the money Republican sources will feed them is probably better spent on the GOP campaign.

    The Greens are almost exclusively positioned to the left of the Texas Democratic party on every single issue. Their attacks on Dem candidates probably helps Dem candidates appear more moderate to the general electorate, if the attacks register at all. So its possible that for every Green vote, their messaging convinces 2 independents to vote for the Dem. So go ahead Greenies…run your campaign against Elizabeth Warren calling her too capitalist . Please do so. And if youre sopping up resources that would otherwise go to the GOP to do so, even better.

    The Libertarians are a much greater threat to the GOP, as some of their planks are more moderate than that of the Republicans. Their support base skews heavily white and male, which, at least in Texas, means that their voters are more likely to vote Republican, if forced to choose.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    As a former Libertarian, now current libertarian Trump supporter, I agree with Tom in his description of the Libertarian demographic and voting patterns.

    I support anything that allows more voting choice in elections, whether that’s Green Party, Libertarians, Constitution Party, etc.

    Having said that, I think in terms of the big 2 contest, all that 3rd party voting will still be a wash. The Jill Stein and Evan McMuffin voters will again cancel each other out. There should be no change by making it easier for 3rd parties to appear on the ballot. None of us should oppose that, if we support free and fair elections.

  3. Joel says:

    The difference between libertarians and greens is that the libs were already clearing the bar to get on the ballot. So this is clearly aimed at creating a similar situation on the left.

    As an any student of elections will tell you, getting to set the rules means winning.

  4. Doug says:

    If we ever follow Maine and institute ranked-choice voting, voters won’t have to choose between voting their conscience and voting to stop the worst candidate imaginable. How about a little love for that idea, and a little less blaming of Jill Stein or Ralph Nader or whoever else stole the votes you think the Dems deserved?

  5. SocraticGadfly says:

    All you have to do, Kuff, if you’re worried about plurality winners, is backed ranked choice voting, just as Doug mentions.


  6. SocraticGadfly says:

    Doug et al:

    Here’s my in-depth blogging about the lawsuit over 2504.

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    What good is ranked choice if most of the minor parties can’t get on the ballot to begin with? That was the main point of Kuff’s article, no?

  8. Ross says:

    A better solution to plurality elections is to have more runoffs.

  9. blank says:

    Doug and SG–Completely agree on RCV, and I donate money to too. While it’s pretty unlikely, there could even be a weird case in the HD 148 special election in which the 10 Democrats split the vote enough that Republicans La Rotta and McConnico are the top two vote getters and head to the runoff. While the winners of the special sessions will only vote on legislation if there is a special session, which is highly unlikely, such an outcome would be a pretty compelling case for RCV.

  10. SocraticGadfly says:

    Ross, ranked choice voting IS a runoff — it’s a form of instant runoff voting. Per myself, Bill Daniels, etc etc. Please actually read something about ranked choice voting.

  11. Ross says:

    SG, I know about ranked choice voting, and have since I first heard about it in the UK 40+ years ago. It’s not going to happen here any time soon, because it’s too radical a change for most folks to accept. Folks will accept runoffs on a different date.

    I find it very annoying that we don’t already have runoffs for all races. Rick Perry’s second term was won with less than 40% of the vote. That’s ridiculous.