03 August 2011

In New York, less Independence than ever

In New York State, the principle of cross-endorsement is meant to give activist-driven independent parties leverage over major-party politicians. In practice, cross-endorsement only encourages the colonization of independent parties by major-party activists. Nearly every ostensibly independent party in the state (the Greens and Libertarians are usually the principled exceptions) becomes a battleground for re-enactments of the general warfare of Republicans and Democrats. In Rensselaer County, this year's district-attorney election has inspired the demoralizing spectacle of Democratic and Republican lawyers arguing in court to have each other's candidates excluded from the Independence party primary. Each aspirant claims a genuine Independence party endorsement. The county organization endorsed the Republican candidate, Joel Abelove. The state organization, meanwhile, recently changed its by-laws to strip county organizations of the power to make endorsements, reserving that power for itself. The party's statewide vice-chairman happens to be a Democrat from Troy, the Rensselaer County seat. The state committee subsequently endorsed the incumbent Democratic D.A., Richard McNally, and its representative in court argues that these two decisions render the county committee's endorsement of Abelove null and void. Inevitably, charges of fraud were traded as well. The judge in the case has dismissed both parties' complaints, so that as things stand McNally and Abelove will compete on primary day for the formal endorsement of the county's estimated 6,500 registered Independence voters. Whether there'll be an actual independent candidate available for nomination was left unclear. Even if there should be one, this latest episode only reconfirms a Troy blogger's opinion that "the Independence Party is a sham." The blogger also calls for the abolition of cross-endorsement. On an abstract level I might concede that any party has the right to endorse whomever it pleases, even if that person has already been endorsed by another party or parties. But if we think of a ballot as a list of candidates nominated by the people, any given candidate should only need to appear once on the list. As long as citizens delegate the right to nominate candidates to parties, and as long as ballots are organized around parties, cross-endorsement will remain defensible on freedom-of-association principles. The easiest way to avoid the pitfalls of cross-endorsement is to make elections truly independent from parties -- especially those that pretend to "Independence."


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that cross nomination is a negative for a third party anyway. If people prefer the dem candidate, why would they vote for him on the "ind" line, rather than the "dem" line? And if the "ind" line fails to get a certain percentage of the votes, there won't be an "ind" line for long. It seems to me it would be in their own best interest to put forward their own candidate who more closely is tied to their platform. Although in this particular case, one must question whether the "ind" party even has a platform.

Samuel Wilson said...

The reasoning is that if people vote for a popular gubernatorial candidate on a third-party line, the party will earn a guaranteed ballot line for the next election cycle. The party then uses the number of votes the successful candidate earns on their line to argue that the candidate depends on those third-party votes and should adjust his policies to retain their support. But the history of the Working Families party shows that this strategy leaves the third party dependent on the popular candidate if they want to retain their guaranteed ballot line. As a result, the candidate can dictate to the party rather than vice versa. The guaranteed ballot line is the incentive for cross-endorsing -- another instance of the tyranny of the party-line ballot.

Anonymous said...

But when you have 2 politicians from 2 opposing parties fighting for the same third party line, that third party stands for nothing except to put "power" into hands of some party boss who stands for nothing but him or herself. That is symptomatic of the problems with our political system. That is not "reasonable" by any definition of the word that I am aware of.

It seems logical to me that a third party comes into existence because they represent an "interest" or platform that they feel is not being represented by any other party. This being the case, any third party that wants a line on the polls should be obligated to put forth their own candidate.

If your explanation is correct, then the major parties - in the interest of honest politics - should simply ignore third parties or let them know that as long as they are not a party member, their voice and interests will not be represented by the party.

Samuel Wilson said...

Independent parties usually claim to represent underrepresented interests, but in most cases, especially in New York, they suffer from lesser-evil syndrome. For instance, Working Families members presumably feel that Democrats don't do enough for the people for whom they name themselves. But they remain absolutely convinced that the Republicans would do even less. As a result, they intend their party as a way to pressure Democrats into doing more without throwing elections to Republicans. The obvious problem is that, unless they're willing to risk just that, and accept the consequences, they actually have no leverage with Democrats at all. Third parties should take such risks unapologetically; if a Democrat blames them for "electing" a Republican, the result should not change the independents' conviction, which should be affirmed as loudly as possible, that their party, not the Democrats, is the only real alternative to Republicanism.

Anonymous said...

I would add that, in such case where a major party blames a third party for "throwing an election", their response should simply be "No - you threw the election. By not representing our interest, you haven't earned our vote.

But I still think any third party that refuses to run it's own candidate doesn't deserve the designation as a political party to begin with.