Voting for the Constitution?

In past presidential elections we have been promised a New Deal, a Fair Deal, and a Great Society. But what we got was politics as usual. In fact, the majority of our presidential elections have not significantly improved things, except for certain special groups, who vote as a bloc. Other than that, the only significant change was in the size of government, which grew larger. Obviously, we shouldn’t expect the results of the current presidential election to be any different.

However, I have a strong "feeling" that this election and the four years following it may be a time when a majority of citizens finally, and reluctantly, admit to themselves that our two major parties have been failures. Many of us have already come to this conclusion. We don’t vote for candidates. We vote against them.

We vote for Bush to prevent Kerry from winning and vice versa. And, of course, many voters are staying away from polling places on election day. With the choices that voters have, this reaction is certainly understandable. But we shouldn’t abandon the election process altogether without giving a third party a tryout. And that is what I intend to do by voting for the Constitution Party’s Michael Peroutka.

My decision to vote for a third party has caused consternation among some of my acquaintances, even those who seem to have given up on Democrats and Republicans. They tell me I am wasting my vote. The Constitution Party can’t possibly win the election. I agree that the Constitution Party can’t win this election but I am not wasting my vote. I am helping sow the seeds for a future election, possibly the next one.

The federal government provided $15 million of our tax dollars to help Republicans and Democrats fund their expensive, self-congratulatory conventions. Third parties received no funding. Nor do they receive media coverage except an occasional dismissal as being out of the mainstream. And the Commission on Presidential Debates excludes third parties from participating.

Those in power at the federal and state level do not want a third party to grow to the point that it might threaten the two major parties; parties to which they belong. And the entrenched politicians in state legislatures are making it extremely difficult for third-party candidates to be placed on state ballots.

The idea of limiting presidential elections to two parties only is quite a departure from the early days of our Republic. The states, having recently gained their independence from the British monarchy, welcomed other parties and other ideas. Ballot access was the same for all parties and state ballots contained Independents, Federalists, Anti-Federalists, Free Soilers, Democrats, and others. The influence of these various parties forced beneficial government changes and legislation. Today all that has changed. Only Republicans and Democrats automatically appear on ballots. But third parties face unbelievable hurdles and each state’s requirements are different. And they must repeat the qualification process every two years. Fair ballot access is an issue that the ACLU and the Supreme Court have both addressed. There is even a ballot access website focusing on the problem. But still the stumbling blocks remain.

The Constitution Party has struggled since its inception in 1992 to get its candidates placed on state ballots. In 1992 it was on the ballot in 21 states. Four years later, 39 states were forced to place the party on their ballots. In 2000, the number grew to 41 states as a result of hard work and legal challenges. In this election the Constitution Party will be on the ballot in 44 states — seven allowing a write-in vote. A favorable outcome to a legal action may add Hawaii to the list bringing the total to 45 states.

But five states have successfully blocked the Constitution Party’s attempts to get on their state ballots: Massachusetts, North Carolina, Indiana, Arizona and Oklahoma. Some of the techniques used to prevent ballot access are questionable and bring to mind the literacy tests used by some states to prevent minorities from voting. The federal government used its powers to eliminate literacy tests but has done nothing to promote fair ballot access at the state level. If the Constitution Party makes a respectable showing in this election, these five die-hard states may be forced to place the Party on their ballots for the next presidential election.