Friday, June 5, 2009

Restrictive Barriers Keep US Progressive Forces Off Ballot

This blog strongly supports the attempts of progressive forces operating outside of the bourgeois Democratic Party's machine to run candidates for public office. In a 1988 analysis of the US political system, Soviet historians explained that, "The American two-(capitalist) party system," … "quite firmly neutralizes popular attempts to break free of the ruling class' political control." The bourgeois Democratic/Republican parties have created massive barriers with the specific intent of keeping the left off the ballot. Understanding the history, nature, and extent of the severity of these ballot-access laws is essential for getting left-wing candidates on the ballot.

The first wave of major restrictive barriers were passed into law between 1931-1951. Before then, ballot access was generally quite easy to achieve for smaller parties. Clearly, these barriers were originally intended to smash smaller parties that had electoral successes during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s (i.e. the Farmer-Labor, Progressive, Socialist, and Communist parties). In addition, the harshest laws were passed since 1969. The newer barriers targeted not just the old smaller parties, but also minor parties that developed in the 1960s' political upheavals and even more recent developments, like the Green Party.

Realizing the nature of laws that prevent minor party candidates from getting on the ballot requires looking at a number of different requirements that they demand of smaller parties. In nearly all cases, collecting the signatures of various numbers of registered voters is required and the number of signatures varies widely from state to state. Another important factor is the amount of time that is allowed for collecting the signatures, which again varies widely from state to state (with some states offering very little time for collecting them). Closely related is the question of who can collect the signatures (e.g. some states do not allow individuals from out-of-state to collect signatures). Finally, the Democratic and Republican election officials always try to find signatures to throw out (e.g. if petitioners misspell their names or write down an address that does not match the address on their voter registration file). Therefore, it is necessary for smaller parties and independent candidates to collect more signatures than what is demanded by the already large "minimum" requirement (usually around 25% more than the minimum is necessary to be safe).

Restrictive barriers have been challenged by judicial action, referendums, and by lobbying state legislators. Small victories have been achieved using these methods. However, there have also been significant setbacks, such as the Jenness v Fortson ruling, where the US Supreme Court upheld (9-0) a Georgia law requiring the collection of petitions from 5% of all registered voters in the state simply for new parties to get listed on the ballot. Ultimately, the only way to permanently remove these barriers is for smaller parties to take control of state governments, which is where ballot access restrictions are created.

Another factor is staying on the ballot once a party has gotten on. The laws have been intentionally written to prevent smaller parties from maintaining ballot access. For example, Arkansas requires that a party get 5% of the vote for governor in order to stay on the ballot. All other statewide offices do not count. In 2008, the Green Party candidate for US Senate polled over 20% of the statewide vote. Yet because the Greens did not get 5% of the vote for governor in 2006 they have to collect signatures all over again to get on the ballot for the 2010 elections.

A number of minor parties founded the Coalition for Free and Open Elections (COFOE) in 1985 to lobby against these restrictive barriers. COFOE publishes Ballot Access News (edited by Richard Winger), which is an excellent monthly newsletter on everything related to ballot access laws and smaller parties. The Communist Party USA was one of the founding members of COFOE. Simon Gerson, a CPUSA member, also served as one of its chairpersons. Gerson, in his book about Peter Cacchione, said that, "the (bourgeois) electoral system is a method intricately fashioned to exclude workers, Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and especially those who consciously oppose the capitalist system. The two old (capitalist) parties are as one in their opposition to Left and independent forces. They write the election laws to create obstacles to minority parties and rebels within the two old parties; they gerrymander district lines and commit polling place fraud, etc. The electoral process as practiced by the two old parties is a colossal fraud designed to facilitate exploitation of the mass of the people by the tiny cabals of monopoly capitalists."

Often the bourgeois media and bourgeois intellectuals say that the type of election system that the US uses (single member districts with plurality winners) creates a "two-party" system. While it is true that two parties do tend to dominate in such election systems, it is definitely not the case outside of the US that the exact same two capitalist parties win 99% of the seats in every election. For example, Canada has four parties represented in its national parliament and the United Kingdom has ten. Both of their bourgeois governments use single member districts with plurality winners, just like the US does. A strict two-capitalist-party monopoly is a phenomenon only found in the US, which is precisely the result of artificial barriers created to ensure that leftists (especially Communists) do not win elections.


Gerson, Simon W. Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York’s First Communist Councilman. New York: International Publishers. 1976.

Raskin, Jamin B. Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court Versus the American People. New York: Routledge. 2003.

Soviet Historians. The US Two-Party System - Past and Present. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 1988.

Winger, Richard, ed. Ballot Access News. 1985-present.

Winger, Richard. “More Choice Please! Why U.S. Ballot Access Laws Are Discriminatory and How Independent Parties and Candidates Challenge Them.” Democracy’s Moment: Reforming the American Political System for the 21st Century. Ed. Ronald Hayduk and Kevin Mattson. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 45-59. 2002.

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