While Republican legislators in Michigan are intensifying their drive to enact the most aggressive voting curbs of the year, expecting such moves would help them in future elections, an earlier effort to preserve power has been blocked in court.
To be sure, the law struck down Monday by a federal appeals court theoretically benefits Republican and Democratic politicians equally. But the ruling could nonetheless make it tougher for the GOP's efforts to win back all three top statewide offices next year — by making it easier for minor party and independent candidates to run for those jobs.
The decision comes as Republicans in control of the Legislature have started mulling a plan for getting around Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in order to make access to the ballot box more difficult starting next year.
Cracking the major-party duopoly is a top cause of many democracy reformers, who believe rules ensuring red and blue ownership of the electoral map are a big cause for governing polarization and dysfunction.
So they were pleased with the 2-1 ruling from 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared unduly burdensome the special ballot access requirements for people seeking statewide office who are not from a major party.
Those rules include collecting at least 30,000 signatures, with at least 100 from half of 14 congressional districts, by early summer in an election year — many weeks, in some years, before primaries or conventions that automatically land a Republican and Democrat on the ballot in November.
Only five states have a tougher signature threshold, the court said as it backed a lower court's ruling in favor of cutting the number to 12,000.
"All told, Michigan's system works to disadvantage independent candidates alone by requiring them to seek a significant number of signatures from an electorate that is not yet politically energized and to stake out positions in a race with yet undecided contours," Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the majority opinion.
In dissent, Judge Richard Allen Griffin said the ballot access rules should be at the discretion of the Legislature and not open to judicial second-guessing.
In most recent elections, a handful of minor-party candidates have usually combined for about 2 percent statewide. Unless the case is successfully appealed to the Supreme Court, that roster and vote share will likely increase — with the outsiders no closer to victory, but maybe getting enough support to shape the outcome of a close Republican vs. Democratic contest.
Whitmer and two other Democrats, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, are all expecting intense challenges to their re-elections in 2022 in what remains one of the nation's major political battlegrounds. And so they are all counting on strong turnout to continue the success that President Biden had in carrying the state by 3 points last fall, reversing Donald Trump's much narrower win four years before.
A key aspect of the GOP campaign strategy in the state, and many others, is to make voting more difficult. The new chairman of the Michigan party, Ron Weiser, is now encouraging an unusual strategy for accomplishing that goal.
While legislators in Lansing write a comprehensive measure restricting access to the ballot box — knowing that Whitmer will veto it — he wants Republicans to invoke the state's system for allowing the people to essentially have the last word instead of the governor. If the party can persuade 340,000 Michiganders to sign a special petition, then the Legislature would be permitted to enact the provisions mentioned in the petition without Whitmer's say-so.
A political committee to run the signature effort, Secure MI Vote, has already been formed.
Republicans unveiled a package of 39 voting restriction bills last week, repeating the arguments made by their colleagues in Georgia, Iowa and virtually every other battleground state's capital: New curbs are needed to assure election integrity and prevent fraud, even though Trump's insistence that he was robbed of re-election by such cheating has no basis in fact.
Among other things, the Michigan proposals would curb the powers of election boards in urban counties, limit voters without photo identification to casting provisional ballots, prevent the state from proactively sending absentee ballot applications to voters, require vote-by-mail applicants to present a copy of identification, bar local governments from paying the postage on ballots returned by mail, and restrict the use of drop boxes as an alternative.
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One minor political party is fighting to remain on the ballot in New York, but its efforts — and those of other alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties — were dealt a severe blow this week.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court's ruling, rejecting a challenge to New York's new ballot qualification rules. The Serve American Movement (also known as the SAM Party) claimed the rule change, which increased the number of votes political parties need in order to qualify for the ballot, violated its members' First and Fourteenth amendment rights.
Democracy reform advocates argue limiting ballot access for third parties only perpetuates polarization and the two-party duopoly in America. The share of voters who don't identify with either major party has trended upward over the past two decades and is expected to continue to grow.
Last April, New York increased the vote share political parties must receive in order to qualify for the ballot, to 130,000 votes or 2 percent of the overall ballots cast in presidential and gubernatorial elections. State officials say this higher threshold will help declutter the ballot and prevent voter confusion. Previously, political parties only needed to secure 50,000 votes every four years to qualify.
The SAM Party became an officially recognized political party in New York after its gubernatorial ticket received 55,000 votes in 2018. The minor party describes itself as "a new kind of candidate-focused, process-driven political party, rather than one predicated on shared substantive policy positions or ideologies."
With its status in jeopardy, the SAM Party decided to challenge the state's rule change in federal court, arguing it violates the U.S. Constitution.
But in September the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that it "failed to demonstrate that allowing the amended party qualification requirements to take effect would violate their Constitutional rights, otherwise cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs, or be against the public interest."
The SAM Party appealed this ruling but the 2nd Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling.
"We hold that Appellants are not likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim because the burden imposed by the presidential-election requirement is not severe and justified by the State's interest in uncluttered ballots, effective electoral competition, and the preservation of resources dedicated to public financing of elections," the court's three-judge panel wrote in the opinion.
Because the SAM Party chose not to participate in the 2020 election, it failed to meet the new qualifications. Only two minor parties in New York state, the Conservative Party and the Working Families Party, retained their statuses following last year's election.
David Jolly, executive chairman of the SAM Party, said the party is evaluating its next legal move and has not given up its plans to again become a credible party in the state.
"Fundamentally for New Yorkers it's a sad day for democracy because what the governor and the legislature have done is they've cut down on choices for New Yorkers," said Michael Volpe, chairman of SAM New York.
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Americans not aligned with either major party favored Joe Biden for president by 13 percentage points, exit polls show.
It's the biggest margin among independents in more than three decades. That's welcome evidence to those who perceive American democracy's problems as largely rooted in the major-party duopoly, and who say the system will work better if independents are awarded more political influence.
The population of voters who don't identify with either major party has trended upwards in the past two decades and accounted for 36 percent of the potential electorate this fall, according to Gallup. They nonetheless cast only 26 percent of the ballots last week, according to the more widely used of the two national exit polls, by Edison Research.
The Democratic former vice president got 54 percent of their votes, to 41 percent for President Trump.
It was the most lopsided independent vote since George H.W. Bush won it by 14 points on his way to defeating Michael Dukakis in 1988. Trump won the White House with a 4-point edge among unaffiliated voters four years ago and Barack Obama won in 2008 with the help of an 8-point margin of independents.
Unaffiliated voters also played a decisive role in tipping several battleground states narrowly in favor of Biden, who has become president-elect with at last 290 electoral votes as of Friday and a popular vote margin of more than 5 million.
Statewide exit polls by Edison found independents preferred him by 14 points in Wisconsin, 11 points in Arizona and 8 points in both Michigan and Pennsylvania.
While independent voters' impact is huge, it should not be interpreted as allegiance to either of the major parties, said Jacqueline Salit, president of Independent Voting, a national organization advocating against the political binary. "If anything, it's a vote that says, 'Get us out of this partisan sinkhole,'" she said.
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Tobin founded the Free and Equal Elections Foundation and Beckerman founded Open the Debates. Both groups advocate for reducing the influence of the two major political parties. An earlier version of this piece was published by Independent Voter News.
Last week's presidential debate was an exhausting production that played into the divisiveness of our country, rather than focusing on solutions.
For a dozen years, we have been sounding the alarm on the control of these general election debates by the Republicans and Democrats, while creating alternative platforms that serve the people and improve our electoral system.
In March, we staged the first-ever cross-partisan presidential debate during the primaries. Eighteen candidates representing 10 political affiliations from across the political spectrum came together to demonstrate that real political debate is possible in this incredibly diverse nation. Grounded in respectful and constructive dialogue, these candidates articulated their competing ideas, values and visions for the United States.
On Thursday, at least five presidential contenders will join us in Denver for another open presidential debate. With the Commission on Presidential Debates reeling from its obviously poor stewardship of the process so far, Thursday's cross-partisan gathering will be an opportunity for the nation to advance a much more meaningful political discourse — one that represents our deep yearnings for a more perfect union.
While the commission claims to work "for the benefit of the American electorate" in arranging this year's three presidential and one vice presidential encounters, the only invited participants are the Republican ticket, President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and the Democratic ticket, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
This brazenly ignores the overwhelming will of that electorate to open the debates to new ideas, fresh voices and more choices. Three out of four voters want to see all ballot-qualified candidates included.
At a time when voters are thirsting for more choices, it is absurd to keep Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen and Green nominee Howie Hawkins off the stage. And Wednesday night's debate should have included their respective running mates, Spike Cohen and Angela Walker.
Objectively speaking, there are four tickets on the ballots in enough states to win the election, and yet the debate commission has decided to appoint itself as gatekeeper standing between voters and their choices — and assuring just two of those tickets have a shot.
Beyond debates, polls consistently show the American people ready to move beyond divisiveness and find common cause. Public Agenda, USA Today and Ipsos found in their groundbreaking Hidden Common Ground report that 92 percent of Americans think it is important to move beyond divisiveness — and 89 percent saying it is important to support candidates that are working toward unifying the country. In the same study, 65 percent said one important solution is to make it easier for third-party and independent candidates to win office.
It is sobering that the desires of the public at large are so thoroughly thwarted with barely a voice of dissent in the main media ecosystem.
It is often said that our country is on the line in the coming election. Without meaningful debate, and free and fair elections, we will continue to witness the unraveling.
Yes, the First Amendment secures us the freedom to speak up as citizens, voters, donors, candidates and, increasingly, as social media pundits. But nowhere in the Constitution is our right to be reasonably informed about our actual ballot choices. Yet it is a foundational principle of healthy self-government that voters should have access to information about our choices.
When a sprawling media apparatus obsessed with short-term profits fails to provide voters fair and robust information, the underpinnings of our republic are eroded. We are subjected to a thriving politics industry composed of special-interest actors that have adopted one side or the other of a two-headed monster. The public interest is simply not invited to the party.
In their new book "The Politics Industry," Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter lay out a devastating analysis of today's politics: "Much of today's system is a self-serving, self-perpetuating private industry composed of gain-seeking actors who write their own rules. They compete to grow and accumulate resources for themselves — not necessarily to serve the public interest — and create artificial barriers to prevent new competition from threatening their hold on the industry."
Instead of acknowledging the deep systemic problems that have disrupted both the illusion and reality of the United States, the political establishment has worked overtime to insulate their brands from accountability to the people.
With all the suggestions about how the Commission on Presidential Debates can prevent a repeat of what happened last week, the simplest shift would be to listen to what a supermajority of Americans are asking for. Including third-party and independent candidates would explode the false binary narrative that dominates and artificially limits our political discourse. The boxing match would gain texture, substance and depth that the two parties intentionally keep hidden under the rug.
Including third-party and independent candidates would also be the surest way to entice non-voters and independents to tune into these important forums for resolving our differences as we move forward together.
If we want to heal and unite a hurting nation, we must first seek to listen, to understand, and to calmly and respectfully debate our differences.
Out of the ashes of the most recent two-party debates, we hope something of real service to the nation may arise from Thursday's far more inclusive debate.
Visit IVN.us for more coverage from Independent Voter News.
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