I just wrote about the effects of non-partisan elections and the proliferation of candidates on legitimacy in school board contests. This post is not its opposite; both posts are about creating the conditions for an open electoral process.
Indiana legislators ought to take a step toward greater voter participation by returning the ballot access requirements for minor parties and independent candidates to the historical percentage of signatures needed to qualify.
It might well inject more vitality and ideas into the public arena. It might fulfill another historical role that third parties have had. That is in introducing committed activists of all stripes who later gravitate to one of the major parties and provide new energy.
Tomorrow, voter turn-out will probably end up being in the neighborhood of 35% of the eligible electorate.
Each decline in turnout raises concern about the very legitimacy of government.
Some persons are acquiesce in the choice made by those who do choose to participate.
Others are exhibiting what economists term "rational ignorance." That is, when the effort (cost) required to be reasonably and reliably informed is relatively high compared to the marginal benefit to be received, then the person may make a choice to opt out of the electoral process. This may be the case when the person is relatively comfortable with the way government seems to be running.
Others choose not to participate because a choice reflecting their view is not on the ballot. These folks may be resentful at the comparative lack of choices between candidates nominated by the two major parties.
The historical threshhold had been signatures of registered voters that numbered over 1/2 of 1% of the total vote cast for Indiana Secretary of State in the last election for that office. That was raised to 2% by the General Assembly in 1980 following the municipal elections of 1979. (see note 1 on the continuation page)
Once on the ballot, a party may maintain automatic ballot status by having their Secretary of State nominee obtain at least 2% of the vote for Secretary of State. Only the Libertarian Party of Indiana has been able to routinely meet that requirement. Tomorrow's election for Secretary of State is important to the Libertarian Party.
There is not much support in the General Assembly for restoring the ballot access requirement to the lower percentage. All the legislators are elected on the ballot from the two major parties. Neither party is particulary interested in having outside factors introduced into a race that affect historical voting patterns.
Indeed, when the ballot access signature level was raised only myself, as a Republican, and only other state representative, a Democrat legislator, openly questioned the appropriateness of it.
That ought to change. Drawing people back to the voting process, getting new people involved in campaigning, and broadening the public debate are all worthy goals.
The historical fact is that in the long-term, third party activity tends to strengthen the two major parties. Voters and long-time activists ultimately find a home in one of the major parties.
In 1932, the Allen County ballot included candidates for the Liberty, Socialist, Prohibition, Socialist Labor, Communist, and National Parties in addition to the Republican and Democratic Parties. The amazing thing is that most of those parties had largely filled-out slates.
There hasn't been a new major party emerge in the United States since the formation of the Republican Party in the middle of the 1850's. There have been many third parties. Some have been ill-conceived or quite radical or both. Others have been inconsequential. But many others have helped move the major parties one direction or another.
A high ballot access requirement and a relatively closed ballot status law means fewer choices. Encouraging the turnout of voters and maintaining the legitimacy of our govermental institutions may hinge on how high or low that bar is set.
The bill raising the ballot access requirement was authored by State Representative Richard Bell who was upset when the campaign manager of the losing candidate in the Democratic mayoral primary filed as in independent. That independent candidacy harmed the campaign of Cliff Arnold, the Democratic nominee for Mayor of Michigan City. Mr. Arnold, a former Sheriff, had served as a state representative with Mr. Bell in the same two-member legislative district.