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Justin Amash: 'Straight-Ticket Voting Makes it Prohibitive to Run Outside of the Major Parties'

The libertarian Republican explains why New Mexico's voting change is "primarily a scheme to unfairly benefit the major party establishments."

I mean, he LOOKS like a Libertarian.... ||| Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomTom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomThe Libertarian Party of New Mexico has joined the state Republican Party's lawsuit to block yesterday's decision to reinstate the "straight ticket" ballot option. With straight-ticket voting, citizens can choose a political party's entire slate of candidates by filling in just one blank.

Critics have derided the move as a brazen attempt by an elected Democrat in a heavily Democratic state to blunt a historic challenge by the Libertarian Party's U.S. Senate candidate, Gary Johnson. In a statement, New Mexico L.P. Chair Chris Luchini called the change an "abuse of power via executive fiat," "a blatant act of self-dealing," and "an [attempt] to interfere with our major party status."

The move was also criticized by Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican, who serves in one of the nine straight-party states in the country.

"Straight-ticket voting makes it prohibitive to run outside of the major parties," Amash told me today.

A popular four-term congressman who is projected to breeze to re-election after going uncontested in the Republican primary, Amash has nevertheless chafed at both the GOP and the two-party system overall. In an interview with me a year ago, he said that "hopefully, over time, these two parties [will] start to fall apart" and expressed his preference for the self-descriptor "libertarian" over "libertarian-leaning Republican." (Yesterday, when a Twitter critic accused him of thinking he's "the most popular libertarian in congress," Amash retorted: "I'm the only libertarian in Congress. There are maybe a dozen libertarian-leaning conservatives.")

Libertarians, independents, and other third-party candidates face a blizzard of obstacles in getting on ballots, into polls, and onto debate stages. Straight-ticket states add the wrinkle of simplifying the voting process for their major-party competitors, particularly in down-ballot races. Registered Libertarians in New Mexico are outnumbered 66 to 44 to 1 by Democrats and Republicans, respectively, while the 22 percent of registered voters there without a party affiliation have to go through the trouble of selecting each candidate rather than voting just once for their entire team.

Amash's criticism of that set-up the past two days has been blunt.

"Both straight-ticket voting and partisan gerrymandering are terrible for our country," he tweeted. The former is "primarily a scheme to unfairly benefit the major party establishments," he continued.

The Michigan legislature struck down straight-party voting in 2015, but a series of court decisions, the latest coming this very month, have kept the system in place, claiming that it protects historically disenfranchised voters. Amash says he favors several reforms to make voting easier, but he doesn't think the straight-ticket option fits the bill: It's "not only unfair and harmful, it's also a solution in search of a problem. The person who intends to vote all one party saves almost no time by having a straight-ticket option. Voting all one party is super easy."

New Mexico Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver, who made the decision to reinstate straight-ticket voting, is running for re-election against Republican nominee Gavin Clarkson. In a statement today, Clarkson pointed out that she's reversing a legislated repeal of the practice that was signed into law by none other than Gary Johnson, who was a Republican governor before he was a Libertarian senatorial candidate:

Maggie Toulouse Oliver's unilateral and likely illegal straight-party ballot decree is an attack on our democracy and the rule of law. Sadly this act of voter suppression is just another cynical example of the abuse of power in the service of extreme partisanship. That's why I'm running to restore impartiality and integrity to our state's ethics and elections.

Straight-party voting was repealed in 2001 by a Democratic legislature and a Republican governor, Gary Johnson. Specifically, House Bill 931 repealed Section 1-9-4 of the Election Code, which permitted each voter "to vote a straight party ticket in one operation." That was the only law authorizing straight party voting in New Mexico, and it has been gone for nearly two decades.

Since then, the people's elected representatives in the legislature have refused to reinstate it. Only nine states still use it, six have repealed it in the past decade, and another state is dropping it in 2020.

Legally speaking, the Secretary of State simply doesn't have the authority to unilaterally make laws, especially against the expressed will of the legislative branch as she is now attempting to do. Thus her actions are not only an insult to the idea of an informed electorate but also an attack against the will of the people of this state and their elected representatives.

It is clear that Maggie Toulouse Oliver is trying to turn back the clock to an era of back rooms and party bosses. Her transparent attempt to unfairly help her own re-election campaign and the rest of her party's underperforming ticket must be stopped for the sake of public trust in our institutions. Her participation as both candidate and referee in this election is looking increasingly like a conflict of interest.

Radical ideologues like Maggie Toulouse Oliver don't believe in letting the people govern, and they don't think the people have the critical thinking capacity to evaluate each candidate independently. This is what happens when you have an adjunct political science professor attempting to practice law.

Here's my interview with Amash from last year:

UPDATE: More on the lawsuit here.

Photo Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

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  • Hugh Akston||

    I mean, he LOOKS like a Libertarian....

    Is that just because he's alone in the picture, or does the fact that he can't afford a tie clip play into it?

  • Eddy||

    It sounds like the secy of state is trying to usurp legislative authority.

    I'd be for straight-party voting, plus straight-NOTA voting for those who want a quick way to *oppose* the party establishments.

    It seems the NM legislature doesn't allow either, and the secy of state is just trying to write laws to benefit xir own party.

  • perlchpr||

    It would be a tragedy if a load of buckshot happened to intersect with her head.

  • JFree||

    It sounds more like the NM legislature has a history of writing legislation and then failing to oversee its enforcement. The law was written in 2001 - and then not enacted until 2012???

    This is a pretty common problem with legislatures that are too restricted in size. Oversight requires a whole bunch of legislators and most legislators don't like doing it

  • JFree||

    And apparently the SecyState who did finally enforce the legislation - was a member of that legislature that passed it. So if she hadn't changed it, it would still be unenforced legislation.

  • Overt||

    The most ridiculous thing about this is the fact that Political Parties should have no special preference in the government. Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. We elect *people* to government positions, not parties. The fact that those people have a political affiliation is important to voters, but the government should take no position, pro- or con-, as to whether it is the most important aspect of a candidate.

    If we are going to include "Straight Party Line" voting on ballots, then the government should allow a checkbox to select every candidate who is a member of the NRA, or NPR donator, or has brown hair.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It's an odd coincidence that the people who write election laws just happen to belong to political parties that benefit from those laws.

  • Aloysious||

    There should also be a checkbox to select 'No to everything and everybody'.

  • CE||

    Most people just stay home. It's not because they're apathetic.

  • CE||

    Well, California went to "top two" primaries which ignore political parties, and that was a disaster for third parties and even the second party really.

  • JFree||

    ANY system of primaries is bound to lead to crappy places - because the parties are then forcing the state to administer (and taxpayers to pay for) what are internal party elections. And the parties thus advantaged then get a ton of valuable info about what motivates the voters in that particular year - all free of charge.

  • Hank Phillips||

    So a Republican-inflected Reason editor interviews an incumbent looter Republican. Do they recommend the repeal of the 1971 Nixon anti-Libertarian campaign subsidies law?

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

    Did the idea of writing something not completely insane ever enter your head? Or is that your complete schtick? Because mine is not only bigger, it's better.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

  • CE||

    There are Republicans still writing for Reason?

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    "Legally speaking, the Secretary of State simply doesn't have the authority to unilaterally make laws, especially against the expressed will of the legislative branch as she is now attempting to do. Thus her actions are not only an insult to the idea of an informed electorate but also an attack against the will of the people of this state and their elected representatives."
    This is the thing I find puzzling. Under what legal authority can the NM Sec. of State reverse legislation? I have no idea what powers her office is granted by the state but seems pretty strange to me. Of course by the time this winds it's way through the courts the election will be over and at that point, what difference could it possibly make? And of course NM taxpayers will pay all legal bills for defending anything she does in her official capacity.

  • DesigNate||

    Tony will be here any minute to explain it to us....

  • Conchfritters||

    This is what happens when you have an adjunct political science professor attempting to practice law.

    Sick burn righty wannabe AG dude.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    If the two major parties were equally bad, then as a libertarian I would discourage straight ticket voting. However, our current situation isn't like that. Instead, we have one admittedly imperfect party, and one party that's been taken over by white nationalist Kremlin assets who are turning the country into The Handmaid's Tale. So straight ticket Democratic voting is not only desirable, it's a moral imperative for anybody who cares about immigrants' rights, reproductive rights, and freeing our government from what is effectively Russian occupation.

    #TrumpRussia
    #Resist
    #BlueWave

  • DesigNate||

    Hahahahahahahahahah

    That was a good one.

  • perlchpr||

    Again, I can always tell that you've hit just the right note when my visceral reaction is "Oh shut up already." :D

  • The Last American Hero||

    You really should upgrade to #bluetsunami

  • Hank Phillips||

    The looter parties are shrinking and the LP just increased 328%... Small wonder the looters are becoming uneasy.

  • Hamster of Doom||

    We might even get women one day, and then we could breed.

    We would be *unstoppable*. Think it over.

  • Eddy||

    Would this involve bathing?

  • Nardz||

    Now, now - you've already lost Hank with the breeding comment.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    My realest dream.

  • CE||

    The second 300 percent gain is the hardest.

  • BruceMajors||

    Here's the twitter of Maggoty Maggie "Two Louse" Oliver, the NM Secretary of State trying to prevent people from voting Libertarian https://twitter.com/ NMSecOfState/status/1034864243416285184

  • Hamster of Doom||

    >>>New Mexico's voting change is "primarily a scheme to unfairly benefit the major party establishments."

    The whole country is primarily a scheme to unfairly benefit the major party establishments.

  • MotörSteve||

    Straight-party voting "protects historically disenfranchised voters".....
    Translation: "we think minority folks are too fuckin' stupid to check more than one box on a sheet of paper. This proves how not-racist we are. Now send us money"

  • perlchpr||

    No, they're doing it so that when they bus in loads of adults from the developmentally disadvantaged center they only have to coach them to check one box.

  • MotörSteve||

    Can't it be both?

  • creech||

    When I lived in Philly years ago, a Democrat election official told me, candidly, that straight party voting facilitated voting fraud due to its efficiency. At the end of the night, they only had to pull one lever to register votes for, say, 12 candidates, instead of pulling 12 levers. Routinely, those who hadn't showed up by poll closing at 8pm were given the "courtesy" of having party hacks vote the way they knew those folks "wanted to vote."

  • MotörSteve||

    Wow! Sadly, I'm not surprised though.

  • Eddy||

    So when they assure us they don't do voter impersonation, they're telling the truth.

  • Eddy||

    (as in a person other than the voter going to the polls and pretending to be that voter)

  • PCGUY||

    Goodbye, Maggie. You're on the wrong side of history.

  • Sevo||

    I've never used a mechanical voting machine (in spite or being old enough to having to vote with rock-chips), but who in hell designed a machine which simply allowed a party vote down the line?
    And how was this accepted by any vote counting agency?

  • JFree||

    I voted on some old-fashioned mechanical machines. Some examples of old patent drawings. You push levers for each race (from top to bottom - and these machines are where the term 'down-ballot race' originates). Each election was organized vertically by party - so a straight-party vote involved moving a bigger lever at the very top - which moved all the party levers in each race. And once you're done voting, you move a big lever at the bottom and all those levers move actual vote tabulators behind the screen and clear your choices back to neutral and (usually) open the voting curtain to signal that you're done voting.

    It actually wasn't ever easy to vote party-line. Those top levers required more strength cuz you're actually moving a lot of smaller levers. Very difficult to juggle children and work and elderly veterans while voting. Those party levers were mostly used as a quick vote by election officials - where the voter would say 'I need help', the official would poke their head in ask them what party they belonged to - and pull the top lever, and then quickly return to the main area so poll watchers don't think he's coaching the voter.

  • JFree||

    As an aside - it wouldn't surprise me if there was a disparate impact re those machines and voting in poorer areas. Those machines were durable as hell. Which means that legislatures that wanted to skimp would send those as hand-me-downs to poorer precincts as richer precincts went with newer technology. Wouldn't surprise me if those were still in use in poorer precincts within the last 10-15 years. So there are people who have voted their entire life on those machines - in one-party locations (since we are mostly a one-party nation).

  • Dan S.||

    Yes, they were still in use in all of NYC up to around 2004, I think. No "party line vote" lever at the top though. They worked reliably, and were highly resistant to fraud: no ballot boxes to "stuff", and no electronics or software to "hack".

  • JFree||

    From pictures I've seen of the NYC machines, they reversed the mechanics of the rows/columns - so the party lever was at the far left of the machine. Still involved more physical work than moving the individual levers - but probably a better layout for locations with a lot more elected offices than political parties

  • CE||

    As a third party voter, it makes no difference to me. I never voted a straight ticket in my life.

  • Stephen54321||

    "With straight-ticket voting, citizens can choose a political party's entire slate of candidates by filling in just one blank."

    This essentially sounds like a form of proxy-voting. Proxy voting is where you assign somebody else to cast your vote on your behalf. In this particular case, you are handing the proxy over to a political party. By ticking the box for a particular party you vote the slate of candidates the party have selected. That may or may not be what the voter would have chosen had they voted in each race individually.

    In other words, like the US presidential electoral college straight-ticket voting is a form of INDIRECT voting, With US presidential elections voters select members of the electoral college which in turn chooses the president. With straight-ticket voting, voters signify the party whose slate they want to use--as opposed to signifying a vote for candidates directly.

  • JFree||

    I think blockchain and 'liquid democracy' could positively impact both voting and candidate accountability and thus change elections.

    Blockchain itself has huge value at ensuring accuracy, identity, and a combo of transparency/anonymity. Liquid democracy can completely disintermediate parties/representatives - or allow for completely customized proxies. You could give Rand Paul your vote on NSA surveillance; Bernie Sanders your vote on free college; vote yourself on all issues related to cats

    It's the sort of thing that could ultimately make it possible to eliminate elections/legislatures - and replace them with much larger random citizens assemblies chosen by sortition (lottery - like jury pools). And maintaining that blockchain integrity could even be the basis for a universal basic income (unlike say bitcoin and other 'mining' nonsense).

    The only political parties that seem to understand where this could lead are Pirate Parties. There is a ton of crossover on those sorts of issues with the Libertarian Party (if the LP would get its head out of its butt re its obsessions with generally irrelevant stuff) - and this would permanently capture younger voters away from the DeRp establishment

  • The Last American Hero||

    So in other words, replace government with mob rule. Sounds great.

  • JFree||

    Keep your head up the GOP ass

  • Horny Lizard||

    We should favor anything to increase the efficiency and accuracy of voting. I've seen people leave before voting because the line was so fucking long. These Republican scumfucks know damn well they don't give a shit about democracy and counting peoples' votes. They resist making voting easier because they see a partisan advantage in doing so and it's s all about the partisan advantage in everything they do. Never a higher principle.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I don't get too excited by Republican actions or preferences. The American electorate's continuing evolution -- less rural, less religious, less bigoted, less white, less backward -- seems destined to arrange the diminution of right-wing influence in America. The consequences of being on the wrong side of history may be delayed to small degree by voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the like, but in the end Republicans will be handled by an American electorate that prefers reason, education, tolerance, science, and modernity to backwardness, ignorance, superstition, and bigotry.

  • Azathoth!!||

    So Republicans see an advantage in people picking and choosing over the whole field and Democrats see an advantage in getting people to push a single button.

    You really aren't making Dems look good here, you know that, right?

  • The Last American Hero||

    They really need to abolish party identification on the ballot.

  • ||

    Maggie was my professor in 2008, and honestly I really liked her initially. I soured on her when she offered extra credit to those who attended President Obama's inaugeration. I didn't think that was fair, for those who weren't financially able to do so, but I got over it, and I really did enjoy her class. I've spoken no ill will of her, but what she did here, in my opinion, is trying to have a direct impact on the election, in favor of her candidate. I think she needs to resign.

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