By Chris Hedges / Original to ScheerPost
The Republican and Democratic parties have no intention of allowing independents and third parties into their exclusive club. A series of arcane laws and rules governing elections make it extremely difficult for outsiders to get on the ballot, receive exposure, raise money, comply with regulations that are designed to advance the interests of Republicans and Democrats or participate in public debates. Third parties and independents are effectively disenfranchised, although 44 percent of the voting public identify as independent. This discrimination is euphemistically labeled “bipartisanship,” but the correct term, as Theresa Amato writes, is “political apartheid.”
“One of the best-kept secrets in American politics is that the two-party system has long been brain dead — kept alive by support systems like state electoral laws that protect the established parties from rivals and by Federal subsidies and so-called Campaign reform,” the political scientist Theodore Lowi noted. “The two-party system would collapse in an instant if the tubes were pulled and the IV’s were cut.”
Amato was the national presidential campaign manager and in-house counsel for Ralph Nader in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Her book “Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny” is a sobering account of our political apartheid, based on her experience in the Nader campaigns. It chronicles in minute detail the nefarious mechanisms, especially the Byzantine rules that vary from state to state, to even get on the ballot.
Third parties not already ballot-qualified and independents must collect valid signatures on a petition to run for president. Some states require a fee or a few hundred signatures. Others require tens of thousands of signatures. The Republicans and Democrats set the requirements in state legislatures, and then, flush with corporate cash and teams of lawyers, haul independents and third party candidates into court to challenge the validity of their petition signatures. These lawsuits are used to invalidate signatures to force candidates off the ballot, deprive voters the opportunity of supporting other candidates, as well as drain the campaign budgets of small competitors. Republican and Democratic party state-level officials, either elected or appointed, administer the federal elections to serve their party’s advancement.
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The requirements to get on the ballot resemble the rules erected during Jim and Jane Crow to prevent African-Americans from being able to register to vote. Ohio, for example, demands that petition signatures be written from only one county on each petition, forcing circulators to carry around stacks of county petitions. The state of Washington requires a 10 day advance notice published in a newspaper before holding a nominating convention. West Virginia mandates that circulators first get credentials from the county clerk, in every county, which must be displayed while collecting signatures. Nevada requires that each petition be notarized.
“To complicate matters further, in a Kafkaesque way, many of the election officials are afraid to say exactly what provisions of their state law mean; they do not want to be implicated in a legal battle — so they often claim that they do not know, that they cannot say, and that you cannot rely on anything they say,” Amato writes. “Alternatively, you may get different opinions, based on whom you ask, or encounter election officials who just don’t know the law they are enforcing, even in some of the biggest states, as we found in 2004 in California.”
Commissions and boards set up to monitor elections, such as The Federal Election Commission, are also composed almost exclusively of Republicans and Democrats.
Amato describes mastering the Federal Election Commission campaign finance laws as equivalent to learning “a foreign language in a few days” and then trying to teach it to campaign staff and volunteers who have little or no experience with federal regulations.
The national, state, and local branches of the Republican and Democratic parties contract vendors and political consultants to work on each campaign cycle. This is usually not true for third parties and independents, who lack the resources and funds to build a permanent campaign infrastructure. The two ruling parties can also rely on Super Political Action Committees, or Super PACs, to raise unlimited amounts of cash from wealthy individuals, labor unions, corporations and other political action committees. The Super PACs can make unlimited “independent” expenditures on behalf of the campaign, although they are not supposed to give directly to the campaign or co-ordinate their activities with federal candidate committees.
Republicans and Democrats, because they raise so much money, have no incentive to participate in the public financing system or create an alternative one that might assist third parties and independents.
“What do impoverished third-party and independent candidates have?” Amato writes. “They get federal financing for the general election only after the fact — if, and only if, they break five percent of the national vote total. The uncertain possibility of getting money after the fact is just about useless to the candidate running in the current election who cannot count on it, though it may be helpful to the party next time around.”
If third parties and independents are willing to subject themselves to an automatic and onerous federal audit, as well as meet a variety of precise financing requirements in at least 20 states, and agree to spending limits in all states and overall for their campaigns, they may be eligible to qualify for primary election matching funds.
As the book “Third Parties in America,” points out, the Federal Election Commission Act is “a major party protection act.”
Those that attempt to challenge the stranglehold of the Republican and Democratic party duopoly are attacked as spoilers, as being naive or egomaniacs. These attacks have already begun against Cornel West, who is running for The Green Party nomination. The underlying assumption behind these attacks is that we have no right to support a candidate who champions our values and concerns.
“In 2016, the Green Party played an outsized role in tipping the election to Donald Trump,” wrote David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, “Now, with Cornel West as their likely nominee, they could easily do it again. Risky business.”
This is the same message that was repeatedly delivered by Democratic Party officials, the media and celebrities to discredit Ralph Nader, who received more than 2.8 million votes in the 2000 election, when he was a candidate.
Independents and third parties do not yet pose a serious threat to the duopoly. They usually poll in the single digits, although Ross Perot received nearly 19 percent of the popular vote. They raise only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars available to the Democrats and Republicans. The Biden-Harris campaign, Democratic National Committee and their joint fundraising committees, for example, raised $72 million from April to the end of June. Former President Donald Trump, raised more than $35 million from April to the end of June. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis raised $20 million in the same period. Cornel’s campaign has raised $83,640.28, according to Jill Stein who is managing Cornel’s campaign.
Biden raised $1billion to fund his 2020 presidential race. The total cost of the 2020 elections was a staggering $14.4 billion making it, as Open Secrets pointed out, “the most expensive election in history and twice as expensive as the previous presidential election cycle.”
Third party candidates and independents are nevertheless dangerous to corporate-indentured Republicans and Democrats because they expose the duopoly’s political bankruptcy, dishonesty and corruption. This exposure, if allowed to persist, will potentially fuel a wider movement to bring down the two party tyranny. The Republican and Democrat parties, for this reason, mount sustained campaigns, amplified by the media, to discredit its third party and independent rivals.
The government directed censorship imposed on social media, as Matt Taibbi exposed, is aimed at shutting down critics from the left and the right who attack the ruling power elite.
You will hear far more truth, for example, about the apartheid state of Israel and the suffering of Palestinians from Cornel than from any Republican or Democratic candidate, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who supports the Israeli government.
There are numerous problems with our electoral system: voter suppression, difficulties in registering to vote, the cumbersome process of often casting a ballot, the flawed mechanisms used to count votes, the 30 or 40 incumbents who run in each election cycle for Congress unopposed, redistricting, denying residents of Washington, D.C. voting representation in Congress, denying the right to cast a ballot for president or a voting member of Congress to the peoples of U.S. “territories”— such as Guam and Puerto Rico, the disenfranchisement of over three million ex-felons and the purging of millions of non-felons from the voter rolls, and the absurdity of the Electoral College, which sees candidates such as George W. Bush and Donald Trump lose the popular vote and win the presidency.
But these problems do not compare to the obstacles placed in front of third parties and independents which mount and run campaigns.
The ruling corporate parties are acutely aware that they have little to offer a disillusioned public other than more wars, more austerity, more government control and intrusion into our lives, more tax breaks for Wall Street and corporations and more misery for working men and women. They use their control of the electoral system to force us to choose between mediocrities like Donald Trump — and major Democratic donors such as Lloyd Blankfein said they would back Trump if Bernie Sanders was the Democratic Party candidate — and Joe Biden. The only electorally viable candidates outside the two-party structure are the very rich, such as Ross Perot or Michael Bloomberg, who, as Amato writes, are able to “buy their way around the barriers of ballot access restrictions and nonexistent media coverage.”
Voters do not vote for who they want. They vote against those they have been conditioned to hate. The oligarchy, meanwhile, is assured its interests are protected.
No Republican or Democratic presidential candidate has any intention of halting corporate pillage. They will not curb the fossil fuel industry or combat ecocide. They will not rebuild our decayed infrastructure and failing educational system. They will not reform our predatory for-profit health care system or restore our right to privacy by halting wholesale government surveillance. They will not institute public financing of elections to curb the legalized bribery that defines elective office. They will not raise the minimum wage. They will not end our permanent wars.
Third parties and independents, even if they poll in the single digits, are a threat to the corporate duopoly because they back reforms, such as increasing tax rates for corporations and the rich, which have broad public support. They expose the corruption of a system that, without funding from billionaires and corporations, would collapse. On nearly every major issue — war, trade policies, militarized police, suppression of the minimum wage, hostility towards unions, revoking of civil liberties, gouging of the public by big banks, credit card companies, big pharma and the healthcare industry — there is little or no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats.
Monolithic power always confuses privilege with moral and intellectual superiority. It silences critics and reformers. It champions bankrupt ideologies, such as neoliberalism, to justify its omnipotence. It fosters intolerance and a craving for autocracy. These closed systems throughout history, whether monarchical or totalitarian, ossify into bastions of greed, plunder, mediocrity and repression. They lead inevitably to tyranny or revolution. There are no other options. Voting for Biden and the Democrats will accelerate the process. Voting for Cornel will defy it.
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Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.