Ballot access

June 20, 2008

My editorial yesterday was on Indiana’s status as one of the “nightmare states” for third-party candidates because of its unreasonable ballot-access rules designed to keep the two major parties dominant. Mitch Harper at Fort Wayne Observed linked to it and also to an earlier essay he’d written on “Low voter turnout and the legitimacy of government”:

There hasn’t been a new major party emerge in the United States since the formation of the Republican Party in the middle of the 1850’s.  There have been many third parties.  Some have been ill-conceived or quite radical or both. Others have been inconsequential.  But many others have helped move the major parties one direction on another.

A high ballot access requirement and a relatively closed ballot status law means fewer choices. Encouraging the turnout of voters and maintaining the legitimacy of our govermental institutions may hinge on how high or low that bar is set.

Those arguing for the status quo usually say too many candidates on the ballot would be confusing and suppress voter turnout. Really? It could really get lower than it already is? In fact, as Harper suggests, more choice would mean more interest in the election and a more likely increase in turnout.

The Ballot Access News blog also linked to the editorial and pointed out, as I did not, that no one has successfully completed a statewide independent or minor petition in Indiana since 2000 and that Indiana is one of only five states in which Ralph Nader has never appeared on the ballot.

One method I’d like to hear debated as a way to handle mutiple candidates is the system of instant-runoff voting (here’s a Wikipedia description of it). Voters don’t just vote for one candidate. They rank  their choices. If no candidate gets a majority of the votes on the first ballot, the one with the fewest votes is eliminated and his votes are recounted for the next ranked candidate on the ballot. This is continued until a winner emerges. It’s in use (at least ) in Canada and Australia and several U.S. cities.

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3 Responses to “Ballot access”

  1. Rob Richie Says:

    Glad you’re interested in taking a look at instant runoff voting. It’s an idea that makes so much sense in the context of elections where more than two candidates seek a seat — essentially simulating what you might do if everyone was in a room, voting for a candidates and knocking out the last-place finisher in each vote until someone has a majority of votes.

    Check out http://www.instantrunoff.com and http://www.fairvote.org/irv for more. One interesting aspect of this year’s presidential race is that all the major candidates seeking the White House this fall support instant runoff voting — Barack Obama introduced legislation to implement it in Illinois, John McCain recorded an announcement in favor of it in Alaska and Bob Barr, Ralph Nader and various small party candidates back it.

  2. Harl Delos Says:

    I think I like the idea, but I’m a little afraid of it, too. Is instant runoff more susceptible to the Abilene Paradox than our current system?

  3. Leo Morris Says:

    Less, I would say. The way things are now, the one with the least votes can be a spolier if the takes votes away from the front-runner in a close race. With the instant runoff, that person would be eliminated in the first round, with his votes going to the preferred second choices of the other voters. Thus, the front-runner is likely to stay the front-runner.


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