Ballot Access — Democracy for the Rich?


Over the next few months, supporters of Ralph Nader’s bid for President will be fighting to get on the ballot, but a myriad of undemocratic ballot access laws stand in the way.

In many states, tens of thousands of signatures need to be collected in a matter of weeks. In Texas, 75,000 are needed in 75 days, and only signatures from registered voters who did not vote in the primary count. Each state creates their own unique barriers, and most have been designed to prevent working people from gaining an electoral voice.

In 2004, in an attempt to cripple his campaign, the Democrats spent tens of millions of dollars in a coordinated campaign to keep Nader off the ballot. We can well expect them to do the same again this year.

A Stacked Deck

Ballot restrictions are just one way the political process has been fixed to keep out independent and working class candidates. Both parties systematically use “gerrymandering” (i.e. redrawing and carefully crafting the boundaries of voting districts) to virtually rig congressional and local elections. By breaking up working class and minority voting blocks, incumbents for Congress win more than 95% of the time!

Switching to a proportional representation voting system in the U.S. – used in a number of countries around the world – would apportion votes to candidates and parties based on the percentage of votes they receive.

The two corporate parties also prevent genuine debate during election campaigns through their joint control over the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has prevented third party candidates from participating in debates. Even though public opinion favors opening up the debates to independent candidates, like Nader, the two parties consistently shut them out.

Then there’s election fraud. The 2000 election was outright stolen by Bush, but the Democrats did virtually nothing to investigate and punish these crimes, much less fix the broken system. This is because the Democrats have a similarly rich history, at the local level especially, of election fraud and corruption.

Reform Needed

Big business is determined to prevent any major challenge to their corporate control of politics. Their two corporate-financed parties, the Democrats and Republicans, reject any electoral law reform like instant runoff voting (a system that allows voters to chose their first choice candidate, but if that candidate fails, it allows their vote to pass to their second choice candidate) that would create a more open electoral process.

Elections are one of the few times workers and young people are given any say over the direction of politics. While there cannot be genuine democracy in a society ridden by class divisions, socialists support changes that will make it easier for the working class to fight for political representation. We support abolishing the Electoral College, instituting proportional representation, making election day a public holiday, opening up the public media to all candidates who are running, and ending the undemocratic voting suppression aimed mainly at poor and people of color.

These changes can only come about through powerful challenges from below. Electoral campaigns and challenges to the undemocratic electoral laws can help pave the way for the building of a new party that can mobilize the power of working people and youth for real fundamental change.