[Marxism] Pt 2 Ralph Nader (1958) Do 3d parties have a chance?
wsheasby at earthlink.net
Mon May 10 21:59:35 MDT 2004
DO THIRD PARTIES
HAVE A CHANCE?
By RALPH NADER and THEODORE JACOBS
Harvard Law Record, October 9, 1958
Early filing dates, often four to six months before the election,
effectively bar eleventh hour protest or splinter parties and force the
gathering of signatures before the acme of the public's political
consciousness. In other states, the period within which signatures may
be obtained is severely restricted. Pennsylvania, for example, requires
that the total number of necessary signatures be obtained within a 20
The potential group from which signers may be solicited is even
limited in many states. Prevented from signing an independent
nominating petition are those who voted in a contemporary party primary
as well as voters affiliated with another party within a specified
Such state action has the effect of preventing voters from
changing party connections during a campaign after the primary
elections or during the prescribed pre-election period.
One of the characteristics of an inflexible standard is the
facility with which it can be abused in its enforcement. Thus, even
when a minority party complies with all the major regulations there
remains a fair possibility that the petition will be totally negated by
a technical defect or omission often due to ambiguities in the election
As a final resort for the politically frustrated, the write-in
vote is available in 47 states, and would probably be implied as a
constitutional right in the absence of any express provision.
In practice, the write-in vote is a somewhat illusory privilege.
No party has ever won an election in this manner, though an occasional
independent has been elected this way. The experience of the Socialist
Party is that most states, finding the write-in unwieldy, simply
disregard them in submitting their count of the vote.
Restrictions Parallel Movements
Since 1948, when Henry Wallace's Progressive Party conducted
national campaign, minor parties, by their diminished activity, have
not provided the underlying impetus for further state restrictions
along the line of number, apportionment and authentication. Indeed,
there was hardly any need to increase already severe requirements. But
it is more than sheer happenstance that periods of minor party activity
have been paralleled by a rash of restrictive enactments from the two
party dominated legislatures. The thirties and forties were such
periods. In 1932 the Socialist Party made the North Carolina ballot
with a petition of 10,000 signatures. Immediately thereafter the
legislature enacted more stringent requirements. Only the Democratic
and Republican Parties appeared on the election ticket in 1936.
Added to these legal obstacles have been a variety of pressures
in the form of discriminatory judicial and administrative enforcement,
and harassing, intimidating tactics by vigilante groups. The latter
pressure has been expressed in the past by publishing petitions in
newspapers to embarrass or black-list signers and even by physical
violence against small party workers.
The constitutionality of even the harshest statutes has been
maintained against claims of deprivation of due process, equal
protection of the laws, and the right to vote. If the restrictions on
access do not constitute an absolute bar and if the particular court
gives weight to the write-in as an available alternative, these laws
are deemed reasonable and therefore valid. Otherwise judicial review is
as broad as judicial discretion which thus far has taken the form of a
"hands off the legislature" policy.
What is constitutional may still be unwise. This is revealed by
an examination of the evils which these restrictions are allegedly
designed to prevent.
It is contended that the signature requirements prevent the
ballot from becoming the size of a blanket and thereby confusing the
The "blanket size ballot" argument has some validity, but it is
attributed to the wrong cause. Rather than arising from an excess of
parties, the long ballot has been due to a plethora of elective offices
all the way from Governor to the county surveyor and the total listing
of a state's presidential electors. With the replacement of the
electors column by the names of the presidential and vice presidential
candidates and the partial reduction of elective offices in many
states, the problem of the long ballot has greatly diminished.
To overburden and sometimes suppress minority parties in order
simplify the ballot is using the guillotine to cure the toothache and
recalls the ardent cry, "Quick, Suzie, the hammer; there's a fly on
It has also been asserted that ballot requirements have not
unreasonably inhibited or actually kept minority parties off the
election ticket. Rather, it is believed, the historical failure of third
parties is due to non-legal factors rooted deeply in the American
Impact of Harsh Restrictions
This position is untenable. First, it is historically false:
there are numerous instances where parties have been kept off the
ballot by onerous conditions or by technical disqualifications. Even
the Republican Party was not spared in the 1918 Florida elections.
Second, the fact that through great effort and expense minor parties
have surmounted formidable obstacles does not reflect on the
reasonableness of such barriers. On the contrary, they have forced
parties to exhaust their financial and human energies in qualifying
rather than in the conduct of a political campaign. Furthermore, the
necessary concentration on ballot access in a few states has entirely
curtailed possible attempts in other states. And, perhaps most
important, the probability of overcoming an obstacle surely cannot
properly be regarded as a reason for the creation of the obstacle in
the first place.
(Part Two of Three Parts)
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