MSM Coverage of Third-Party Issues

MSNBC National affairs writer Tom Curry just wrote the best mainstream article I’ve seen on third-party politics in some time. As I personally know each person interviewed in the story, I’ll provide whatever supportive commentary I can. The general theme of the article can be taken from this opening question:

At a time when opinion polls indicate that Americans hold both major political parties in low esteem, can a third party move into the breach?

The Libertarian Party response was accurate, and I’ll be providing some supportive polling data in a future article. Both Stephen VanDyke and I will be teaching courses at the LLS (site content still under development, but viewable), BTW.

“We’re in a rebuilding mode right now, all the focus is on 2006,” said Libertarian Party chief of staff Shane Cory.

The Libertarians are creating a voter identification database to pinpoint likely voters. “Dislodged voters are unhappy with the two-party system,” contended Cory. “That’s who we’re targeting.”

In January the party will launch its on-line “Libertarian Leadership School,” a six-week training course that will teach would-be candidates savvy such as understanding ballot access laws and complying with Federal Election Commission rules.

While I have read stuff from or about Kevin Zeese for years, we physically met (in DC) for the first time during the 2004 presidential elections. He was my counterpart over at the Nader campaign. If anyone can break the third party/independent barrier in 2006, my money is on either Zeese or Kinky Friedman.

Another third-party stalwart, Kevin Zeese, former spokesman for Ralph Nader’s presidential bid last year, is running for the Senate seat in Maryland now held by retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a Democrat.

Zeese is seeking the nominations of three parties: the Libertarians, the Greens and the Populists.

He criticizes Democratic front-runner, Rep. Ben Cardin, for accepting campaign contributions from “the military-industrial complex,” from pro-Israel groups, and from the pharmaceutical industry.

At a recent meeting Zeese had with progressive Democrats, one of them said to him, “You should run as a Democrat; you have no chance of winning outside the two-party system.”

But Zeese said, “If I run as Democrat I don’t accomplish my objective; the two-party system has to be put behind us.”

We’ve already covered Richard Winger once today, but he deserves the multiple mentions. When I need an expert opinion on any ballot access issue, my first call is always to Winger.

A non-presidential election year is a difficult time to launch or expand a third-party movement. That wasn’t always the case, says Richard Winger, an expert on election law and editor of Ballot Access News.

“Back in the days when the United States had more flexible laws, and powerful parties did arise from time to time, those developments usually happened in the middle of election years (even-numbered years),” Winger said.

He noted that in May of 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which legalized slavery in territories which had formerly been closed to slavery. In response, a new party opposed to the extension of slavery, the Republican Party, was born on July 6, 1854.

I met Rob Ritchie in New York City during the third-party presidential debates and was very impressed with him. He’s pushing an important idea, and I’m glad to see it covered in the news.

The biggest barrier third party candidates face, according to Richie, is the winner-take-all voting system which most states and cities use.

Richie’s group favors an instant runoff system in which voters would rank candidates in order of their preference. To win, a candidate would need to get a majority (50 percent plus one). If no majority winner emerged from the first round of voting, the top two candidates would go to a run-off in which voter’s second-choice preferences would determine the winner.

This would help third-party candidates such as Nader. A voter could back Nader in Round One, confident that if Nader lost, the voter’s vote in the instant runoff would be awarded to his second-choice candidate, likely a Democrat. No state has yet adopted such a system, although San Francisco and Burlington, Vt. have.

It is refreshing to see the mainstream media pay some attention to third-party politics. Hopefully more Americans will realize they do actually have a choice other than voting for the lesser of two evils.

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. If we keep our Libertarian Party horse on the track and in the running, we will one day start winning some bigger races.

  2. What I really hate is how they juxtapose Jim Gilchrist (throwing in a paragraph on his crazy ass) with the Libertarian chief of staff, making an unobservant reader think he’s the Libertarian candidate in the election.

  3. Instant Runoff is an improvement. It would elect a majority winner — who would still be opposed by roughly half the electorate. Aoorival voting woyuld be much better. It would elect a consensus winner — who is opposed by very few people. Look it up on wikipedia.

  4. G3 – I noted that, too. I decided not to mention that detail as he is not a Repub or a Dem at the moment. Also, as I write a lot, I figger it was likely that the editor or the copy editor chopped a line or two and changed the flow.

  5. Zeese is on the right track here. Until electoral reform is acheived, the third party and independent forces which exist need to work together to break down the barriers of our two-party system. In my opinion, if the Libs and the Greens (and whatever is left of the Reform Party and various other thirds) could put their differences aside, and work together, possibly even unify to combine forces and ballot lines, some real progress could be made.

    I know there are some very strong ideological differences between the groups involved, but the primary similarity is that none will be able to have a significant presence in American politics until the rules of the game are changed. Zeese’s campaign is showing that it is possible to bridge the divide. But the legacy of the Reform Party and previous modern third parties is that unless you find a way to succeed in changing the system itself, extinction is just an election cycle away.