Election 2012: The Real Lesson of Ballot Access Battles

Michigan’s Secretary of State removed Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson from the November ballot pursuant to the state’s “sore loser” law — prior to his Libertarian Party candidacy, he appeared on the Republican primary ballot due to that same Secretary of State’s failure to remove him from said primary ballot at his request.

In Oklahoma — a state where a candidate who is not a Republican or Democrat has about as much chance of getting on the ballot in the first place as a candidate in Iran who isn’t chummy with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini, and for the same reasons — Johnson has also been removed from the ballot, after having been duly put on said ballot by Americans Elect, pursuant to skulduggery by that state’s election officials and AE’s national umbrella organization.

In California, a court hit activists who sued versus the state’s “top-two” election system — a system specifically designed to ensure that Republicans and Democrats face no meaningful competition from third parties — with nearly $250,000 in sanctions, requiring them to pay their opponents’ attorney fees for having had the gall and temerity to contest the matter.

Around the country, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is working overtime to get Johnson and other third party presidential candidates kicked off of state ballots and narrow voters’ choice to Romney or US President Barack Obama.

Back when I was still involved in electoral politics, I’d have found this year’s ballot access battles depressing. These days, I find them encouraging. They’re a symptom of the increasing brittleness in, and the impending breakdown of, the existing system.

The “duopoly” — the Republican and Democratic Parties — claim to not agree on much, but they certainly agree on one thing: Only Republicans and Democrats are permissible candidates for election to public office.

They began their attempts to foreclose other options in the 1880s with adoption of the “Australian ballot.” Before that, voters wrote their own ballots or procured pre-printed ballots from the candidates or parties of their choosing. Ever since, the (Democrat- and Republican-controlled) government has printed the ballots, making it more and more difficult over time for “third party” candidates to appear on them.

This year, even 120 years of increasingly draconian legislation to keep alternatives off the ballot and out of the public eye has proven insufficient to the duopoly’s purpose. Since mere law (and, in the case of the GOP, internal party rules) hasn’t sufficed to produce the beauty pageant coronations they desire instead of the real elections they fear, they’re just openly breaking those laws (and, versus the specter of Ron Paul, internal party rules) in a desperate attempt to keep themselves strapped atop the Rube Goldberg machine they’ve built.

It’s not that the duopoly fears that third parties (or even radically different alternatives within their own parties) will win elections on anything like a regular basis.

What they fear is that voters will notice that there ARE alternatives, even mild and reformist alternatives, to their continued and unquestioned rule.

The status quo is in a precarious position: It can no longer afford for its subjects to think. Its survival requires an electorate composed entirely of coin-flipping robots. It’s the American “democratic” equivalent of Stalin’s obsession with airbrushing Trotsky out of all the old Soviet photos.

The fiction that the American duopoly is actually a “two-party” system in anything but name has ceased to be innovative or novel. Now it’s just boring. But the solution to the problem is not to cast — or to fight for the “right” to cast — quixotic “third party” votes. The solution is to withdraw our consent entirely. It’s time to stop participating in the charade and to stop humoring those who put it on.

Ceterum autem censeo, status esse delendam.

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