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."