A couple of months ago, I ran into this NYT article discussing Ralph Nader’s inclusion on the Michigan ballot. It appears that Mr. Nader had only 18% or so of the signatures he needed to make the ballot, but miraculously ended up with an extra 45,000 signatures on the petition, courtesy of the Republican Party. The motive, according to the executive director of Michigan’s Republican Party, was to “ensure that Michigan voters are not disenfranchised.”
Today, I happened upon this new little gem. In a related move, Florida’s Division of Elections director Dawn Roberts declared that Nader could appear on the Florida ballot despite legal questions about whether Nader qualifies under Florida state law. And apparently, “Analysts said most of the nearly 98,000 votes Nader got in Florida would have gone to Gore had Nader not been on the ballot.”
What I find interesting about these cases is twofold. First, it intrigues me that the bar to get on a ballot is so high. Okay, I suppose there are technical reasons why not just anyone can be placed on the ballot; it might be overkill to have 5,381 presidential nominees. But from the perspective of freedom and democracy, it seems to me that if someone could get 50,000 signatures nation-wide, he or she should automatically qualify to be on all state ballots. Part of the problem with current American politics is a lack of choice, and the two parties prefer to maintain that status quo.
More interesting, however, is this notion that somehow by including Nader on a ballot, you are “costing” one or another of the established parties the election. This, of course, is the Republican motive to place Nader on a ballot, and the reason that Democrats are screaming. I really doubt that anyone particularly cares whether or not voters are “disenfranchised” these days. Still, there are problems with this “costing” logic.
The Democrats, in my honest opinion, are being extremely pathetic and anti-democratic with the whole thing. By whining about Americans getting extra choices in the election, what they are effectively saying is that:
1. Americans do not deserve to have multiple choices; Republican or Democrat are all they should be allowed, and
2. the Democratic party is not confident enough in its attraction to voters to believe that it is capable of winning an election should it face extra competition on the ballot.
But the problem isn’t solely with the Democrats. The Republicans, by using unethical tactics, are basically saying something else. Specifically, that:
1. it doesn’t matter if Americans have more choice, because the Republican party will use whatever methods they have to in order to win – ethical or not – and
2. the Republican party is not confident enough in its attraction to voters to believe that it is capable of winning an election without extra competition to dectract votes from its only practical competitor.
Overall, a sad state of affairs. Basically, both parties are participating in insuring that Americans have two effective choices come the elections – and if the Republicans successfully manipulate the election process enough, only one viable candidate. Whatever happened to sportsmanlike democracy, where you take your wins or losses with grace without using slimy tactics to undermine your competitor? Oh, wait – democracy…that has to do with politics, and what are politics if not slimy? Oh well. Maybe one day Americans will get fed up with having limited (or no) choice and actually do something about it – and maybe one day pigs will fly. Neither one is gonna happen any time soon.