Who's the "Extremist" Here?
The Buffalo News published an editorial cheering New York's recent enactment of unnecessarily restrictive ballot access laws, which eliminated all minor parties from the ballot (except two "fusion" parties that retain ballot access by nominating Republicans or Democrats). According to the Buffalo News, allowing Americans the right to vote for alternatives to Republicans and Democrats threatens to "undermine" our political system. In the letter below, CCD corrects the record.
To the Editor:
As the attorney who argued a case challenging New York’s unnecessarily restrictive new ballot access laws, which eliminated all minor (except fusion) parties from the ballot with the stroke of a pen, I am dismayed that the Editorial Board shows such disdain for the First Amendment by cheering this open attack on voter rights.
As the Supreme Court recognized in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, minor parties are frequently “in the vanguard of democratic thought” and often their platforms are “ultimately accepted” by the major parties. Examples include the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the 40-hour work week, social security and a progressive income tax. More recently, minor parties stood alone in their opposition to the Iraq war and their support for a living wage and single payer healthcare. These were all positions the major parties opposed that are increasingly popular if not universally accepted today.
Minor parties thus play a healthy role in a two-party system by injecting new ideas into the public debate and providing an escape valve for dissent. The elimination of such voices, the Court said in Sweezy, “would be a symptom of grave illness in our society.”
Millions of New Yorkers are neither Republicans nor Democrats. They deserve meaningful choices at the polls and should not be forced to vote for major party candidates who do not represent their views. The Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of association and equal protection demands nothing less.
If the Editorial Board is concerned about “extremists” it should support reforms like ranked choice voting, which protect voters’ right to support the candidates of their choice while ensuring that candidates with majority support prevail. Supporting the elimination of all but two parties is itself an extremist position, and one that is dangerous to American democracy.
-Oliver B. Hall
Founder and Legal Counsel
Center for Competitive Democracy