How Third Parties Are Getting Screwed This Election Season

Republicans and Democrats hate each other. They love their own power even more.


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Republicans and Democrats may genuinely hate each other, but they love their own power even more. That's why they collude so often to keep those pesky Libertarians, Greens, and independents away from the lucrative levers of government.

The 2018 midterms have been chock full of two-party shenanigans, all too often aided and abetted by journalists, pollsters, and the voters themselves.

It all starts with ballot access. If a state government considers you a "major party," getting on the ballot is a snap. Worst-case scenario, you need to collect signatures from a tiny fraction of your own registered voter base. Best case, you just show up.

Third-party and independent candidates, on the other hand, have to collect tens of thousands of signatures in some states—15,000 to run for governor in New York, for example, including at least 100 in each congressional district. Arizona Republicans recently changed the law to say that Libertarians need to collect signatures not just from their own members but from registered independents as well. And by the way, the Green Party is subject to a less stringent set of rules, which is why there's a Green but not a Libertarian running in Arizona's neck-and-neck U.S. Senate race.

Some states push their filing deadlines all the way back to a year before the election. That's one of many reasons why candidates such as Evan McMullin, when they get a sudden itch to run for president, are lucky to make it on even a dozen ballots.

New Hampshire this year herded all third parties under the same ballot line, confusingly titled "Libertarians and Other Candidates." New Mexico tried—and thankfully failed—to institute a "straight party" ballot, meaning voters in this 3–2 Democratic state could automatically vote for all the candidates in one party by checking off just one box.

Gary Johnson's surging poll numbers, I am sure, were purely coincidental.

Getting your name on the ballot doesn't mean it will be included in the polls. The Nevada race for U.S. Senate is universally rated a tossup, and yet the first three independent polls released this October failed to include Libertarian Tim Hagan, even though previous surveys had him at around four percent.

How about debates? Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dale Kerns was assured of a spot on stage, then uninvited. Texas gubernatorial candidate Mark Tippets was told he didn't have enough qualifying press, in part because his coverage in the Spanish-language media didn't count. In Texas. Iowa governor candidate Jake Porter, who's polling higher than any other L.P. statehouse contender, says his debate invitations were rescinded, in part because he refused to buy commercials.

"The freer and more general the competition," Adam Smith wrote in 1776, the more "advantageous" it will be to the public. Competitors, he warned, will "always" try "to widen the market and to narrow the competition." For too long we have allowed our system of government, that other glorious achievement from 1776, to be controlled by the market-rigging forces Smith warned us about. It's about time to make American politics competitive again.

Written by Matt Welch. Camera by Jim Epstein. Edited by Alexis Garcia.

Photo credits: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom, Hill Street Studios Blend Images/Newscom

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