28 May 2014

To suppress an American political party

In effect, that's the proposal of Susan Lerner, a Common Cause activist and op-ed contributor to the Albany Times Union. Her target is the Independence Party, the largest small-i "independent" party in New York State. Like many so-called independents here, Independence often offers an echo, not a choice. It adopts the policy of cross-endorsement, usually nominating a major-party candidate for governor (though it ran its own from 1994 to 2002) in the hope that enough people will vote for that candidate on the Independence line to earn the part a guaranteed spot on the next state ballot. Lerner argues, for all intents and purposes, that the party is corrupt, offering its nominations to the highest bidder. Lerner claims that those who bid are suckers, deceived by the party's large enrollment. She cites a New York Daily News article claiming that most people who've registered with the Independence party don't know either what the party stands for or that they're actually enrolled in it. Apparently most people register with Independence on the mistaken assumption that they're designating themselves as small-i independent voters. This gives the actual party leaders disproportionate, unfair influence with major candidates. Lerner's remedy is for New York to emulate Louisiana, where a law was passed forbidding any party from calling itself "Independent" ( or "Independence?") in order to prevent confusion during the registration process. Whatever the sins of the Independence Party of New York, I don't care much for this idea. A more legitimate political party should be able to call itself what it pleases, no matter how it may confuse people. For a long time you'd see both a "Socialist" and "Socialist Worker" candidate on ballots, if you cared to look hard enough, so I see no reason why there shouldn't be a "Conservative Republican Party" or a "Progressive Democratic Party," to give two examples off the top of my head. The real problem with the Independence Party, it seems, is that its only real purpose is to hold on to that ballot line. Coveting a ballot line is a problem with many parties in New York, as I've already noted. The real remedy wouldn't be to restrict what parties can call themselves -- you may question their sincerity but who would you trust to actually judge it? -- but to institute a non-partisan ballot that has no such lines. Do that, and we'd soon see which parties really have something unique to offer voters.

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