You'd think that a state like North Dakota would be a hotbed of libertarianism, but the Libertarian Party of North Dakota has had to go to court in order to run candidates for office this year. That's because the state's election law imposes a threshold for participation in a general election based on primary turnout. Since the state has open primaries, the election law seems to treat Primary Day as a kind of first-round vote. According to this account, a party primary winner doesn't qualify for the general election ballot unless he or she receives at least 10% of all votes cast in all primaries that day. According to this one, the primary winner must receive a number of votes equal to 1% of the eligible population of the relevant election district. Unfortunately, the pitfall of libertarianism's appeal to the "leave me alone" mentality is a public apathy contrary to the civil engagement the Founders considered essential to liberty. In other words, Libertarian primary turnout fell far below the eligibility threshold set by North Dakota. The Libertarians are suing the state, claiming that the law imposes an "onerous" burden on all independent parties, and that primary turnout for any party, the majors included, never fully represents a party's true level of popular support. The state insists that its law sets a reasonable and legitimate viability test, and that this year's Libertarians failed it due to poor primary turnout. While my own view is that no government entity should have the right to determine a party or candidate's viability for participation in election, the U.S. Constitution, as I understand it, sets no such limit on states' right to make their own election laws, and the "onerous" effect of the law is inevitably subjective. Libertarians and other independents must find a way to convince voters to elect legislators committed to the wholesale overhauling of election laws at every level, or else push for a federal constitutional amendment establishing a uniform and fair set of election rules for the entire country.
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Meanwhile, the national Libertarian Party has sent me another membership invitation. Boasting of their standing as "America's largest alternative political party," Executive Director Wes Benedict is admirably terse in his dismissal of the two major parties. "It doesn't matter whether Democrats or Republicans have controlled the federal government," he writes, "What have they done for us? Foreign wars, trillions of dollars in deficit spending, giant new federal government programs, and oppressive infringements on our civil liberties."
By contrast, Benedict explains, the Libertarians stand for "free markets, civil liberties, and peace." Two out of three ain't bad, but I wonder whether Benedict has really thought much on whether the first thing he stands for is as compatible with the other two as he assumes. As long as I can't take that for granted, I can't be a Libertarian, though I wish them success in their efforts to break the grip of Bipolarchy on the electoral process. Markets are good, and freedom is better, but the market was made for man, not man for the market.
As I noted the last time the Libertarians wrote to me, their party differs from the Republicans and Democrats in charging dues. A basic membership costs $25; in return you receive a newsletter subscription, a bumper sticker and, I assume, the right to participate in the nomination of a presidential candidate. I recall scoffing at the membership fee before, but considering what it costs taxpayers to stage the bigger parties' primaries for them, and how much the major parties regular beg for from members and non-members alike, I don't think so poorly of it now. Public primaries only seem to make it easier for states like North Dakota to impose viability tests, when the only legitimate viability test takes place in the mind of each voter on Election Day itself.