Friday, September 10, 2004

If Nader Isn't on the Ballot, Is the US a Democracy? 

djw addresses the Florida court decision taking Ralph Nader's name off the state's ballots:
I confess that when I hear that Nader has suffered a setback or failed to make a state ballot, I celebrate first and investigate the particulars later. The potential substantive implications--and consequences--of Nader's name on state ballots significantly outweighs my concerns about procedural manners. Still, the legal challenge mounted by the Democrats in Florida seems prima facie legitimate. If the issue hinges on whether or not the Reform party is an actual party, the fact that they haven't fielded a candidate for any office since 2000 and have upwards of eighteen dollars in their bank account would seem to indicate that there are legitimate questions here.

Nader supporters, of course, are up in arms. This, we are told, is a blow to democracy itself. This is the claim I'd like to investigate a little bit.

When one studies democratic theory, one begins to notice the sheer volume of arguments that invoke democracy as a rationale, without any serious attempt to explain what is meant by democracy or how it is threatened/supported. It's tempting to simply dismiss or ignore these imprecise and seemingly reflexive invocations of democracy, but I think it's more appropriate and revealing to take the seriously and explore what is meant by them.
What follows is a clear and cogent rebuttal to claims that Nader's removal from the ballot is somehow evidence that US democracy is non-existant or reduced. Go read it. GO!

There's one thing djw gets wrong:
First of all, no citizen (with voting rights) in this country will be denied the right to vote for Ralph Nader. If he isn't on the ballot, a vote for him can still be cast as a write-in. What Nader is fighting for is the ease and convenience with which people can vote for him. This is worth remembering when the histrionics start to get to be a bit much--none of the people doing the wailing will be prevented from voting for Ralph Nader, as long as they can remember how to spell his name.
It's actually not so simple. Five states (Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma and South Dakota) don't allow write-in votes at all, and South Carolina won't count write-ins in presidential elections. Of these 6 states, I'm pretty sure that Nader's name is on the ballots of all but Oklahoma. Among the other 44 states, some states won't count unapproved write-in candidates. As far as I can tell, this isn't usually too high a hurdle, requiring nothing more than filling out a form (and in North Carolina, getting 500 signatures). Nevertheless, according to this site, at least, to date Nader has only secured official write-in status in three states. And the clock is ticking: in many states, filing deadlines for write-in candidates have already passed. Florida's was back in July, so unless Judge Davey's ruling is overturned, Floridians won't have an opportunity to vote for Nader, even by write-in.

There are some other minimal anti-write-in rules as well. In California, at least, write-ins must be literally written in: pre-printed stickers aren't legit.

What names do voters write in when getting "authorized" isn't an issue? Here's a list of write-in votes from Rhode Island in 2000. As you can see, some people apparently decide to write in the names of candidates already appearing on the ballot. I don't know why, either. Among people who think that going to the polls to cast a "joke" ballot is a good use of time, Mickey Mouse outpolls Jung Jung Kank McClimn 5-to-1, while "Lets Include the People" and Alan Keyes each beat expectations by receiving 2 votes.

[A big Bonassus "Thank You!" to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News for information.]

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