Sixty percent of American voters will have a Republican election denier on their ballot in the mid-term elections for the House, Senate, governor, secretary of state, and/or attorney general. In 2021 and 2022, Republicans have passed 42 laws in 20 states to restrict voting. One in six election workers have received violent threats since the 2020 election. Forty-three percent of voters fear violence or intimidation at the polls in this year’s mid-term elections. Armed men in masks, dark glasses, body armor, and camouflage tactical gear are filming voters at drop-off ballot boxes in the Phoenix area as part of a nationwide right-wing mobilization of a vigilante-style army of poll watchers to intimidate voters.
These despicable far-right Republican assaults on voting rights and honest elections must be condemned and resisted. But the Democrats are not so innocent – or effective in resisting right-wing voter suppression and election rigging. Federal voting rights and election protection bills that would pre-empt anti-democratic election laws passed by Republicans in the states have failed in Congress because the Democrats were not willing to make lifting the Senate filibuster that enabled Republican vetoes of these bills a high priority and major public issue.
The Democrats are not innocent of voter suppression themselves because they suppress the votes of their opponents to their left. Their preferred strategy is to suppress ballot access for the candidates of independent progressive parties. Party suppression is a form of voter suppression. It denies independent progressive voters the right to vote for who they want once they get their ballot.
I reviewed a number of Democratic efforts to suppress Green Party candidates in 2020 and 2022 in CounterPunch on July 15 in “The Democrats’ Third-Party Massacres.” A prime example I discussed was the case of Matthew Hoh, the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate in North Carolina. It was a case of party suppression spearheaded from the top of the Democratic Party by its top election law firm led by Marc Elias. The Democrats attempted to harass people who signed the Green Party’s ballot access petition into removing their signatures, often misrepresenting themselves as election officials or even Green Party members. They used their Democratic majority on the state election board to undertake a maliciously contrived investigation of supposed fraud by the Green petitioners and used those trumped-up investigations to make a blatantly biased decision to deny the Green Party ballot access even though the party clearly had more than enough legitimate petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The good news is that the North Carolina Greens sued and won their case in the U.S. District Court, where the judge commented that the Democrats “do not appear in this court with clean hands.” The Democrats appealed, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. So Matthew Hoh is on the ballot. He is now dealing with the other obstacles that independent progressive candidates have to contend with, like exclusion from the corporate media campaign narrative, including media-sponsored debates, and trying to compete with tens of thousands of dollars from small donations against the tens of millions of dollars stuffed into the Democratic and Republican candidates’ coffers by the corporate rich, not to mention many millions more in independent expenditures and dark money spent by SuperPACs on their behalf.
The bad news is that next door in South Carolina, the Democrats murdered another independent progressive party in August. This time it was the South Carolina Labor Party, the only branch of the Labor Party of the 1990s that secured and maintains a ballot line.
At its July 30 convention, the South Carolina Labor Party nominated Gary Votour for Governor, Harold Geddings for Lieutenant Governor, and Lucus Faulk for U.S. Representative in the 1st district. The nominations were not without controversy. The proponents of running candidates wanted to campaign for progressive reforms that the Democratic Party nominees were not, particularly a $15 minimum wage and Medicare for All. The opponents argued that the Labor Party candidates would split the center-left vote and help far-right Republicans win.
On August 1, party co-chair Donna Dewitt, president emerita of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, informed the state Election Commission of the conventions’ nominations. On August 5, the other co-chair, Willie Leggette, professor emeritus of political science at South Carolina State University, told the Election Commission that the nominations were not valid. That same day, the caretaker national leadership of the Labor Party expelled Dewitt from what has become just a shell organization that serves as a placeholder for a renewed national Labor Party some day. The Election Commission ruled that the Labor Party had followed state law by informing the Election Commission of its nominations before an August 15 deadline to do so and that its candidates would be placed on the ballot.
The South Carolina Democratic Party sued on August 10 to remove the Labor Party candidates from the ballot on the grounds that state election law required that the nominations be made by May 15. Like many of the election board and court hearings the Green Party and its candidates have suffered through as I recounted in my previous article, the court hearing in this case was far from fair and impartial. The Labor Party was not given time to secure legal counsel for the hearing held on brief notice for August 16, while the Democratic Party was lawyered up with top attorneys. The candidates had to represent themselves. Co-chair Dewitt was not allowed to testify. On August 1, the judge ruled the Labor Party candidates off the ballot for missing the May 15 deadline. The hypocrisy of the Democratic Party here is that they, too, held their 2022 convention after May 15 on May 19-22 and those candidates nominated by primaries won their races on June 14 or in a June 28 run-off.
Meanwhile, in New York, only the Democratic and Republican candidates are on the ballot for Governor, Lt. Governor, Comptroller, and Attorney General thanks to the draconian ballot access law enacted by the Democrats in 2020. 2022 is the first time since 1946, and the only other time since state-issued secret ballots began in 1891, that only the Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor are on the ballot. Under the new law, none of eight attempts by gubernatorial tickets to qualify for the ballot by independent nominating petitions were successful, nor were any for president in 2020.
On October 19, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the exclusionary New York ballot access law passed in 2020. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought jointly by the Green and Libertarian parties in July 2020. The lawsuit argues that New York’s restrictive new ballot access law is an unconstitutional denial of the parties’ 1st Amendment rights to free speech and association and 14th Amendment right to equal protection.
The new law increased the statewide independent petition from 15,000 to 45,000 signatures to be collected in just 42 days, making it the most difficult ballot petition in the nation. It increased the number of votes required to maintain a ballot line from 50,000 votes for Governor every four years to 2% for President or Governor every two years. Both the Green and Libertarian parties thought they had qualified for the ballot through 2022 by receiving around double the 50,000 vote standard for their gubernatorial tickets in 2018. But the Democrats changed the law on them mid-stream and both parties failed to reach 2% in 2020, which was 172,337 votes, or about three and a half times more than the previous standard.
When their case came before the U.S. District Court in May 2021, the judge did not hold a trial and issued a decision to uphold the law just one day after the oral argument. The District Court judge’s ruling had numerous factual errors and omissions, which Richard Winger, publisher of Ballot Access News, enumerates in the November 2022 issue of that publication. The lawyer for the Greens and Libertarians tried to point these out in the September 6 hearing before a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit. That seems to have had no effect on the judges. The October 19 ruling by the Second Circuit was an unusual and insulting two sentences affirming the factually flawed District Court decision. The Greens and Libertarians now plan to appeal for an en banc hearing before all the judges of the Second Circuit. Meanwhile, the Green gubernatorial ticket of Howie Hawkins and Gloria Mattera and the Libertarian gubernatorial ticket of Larry Sharpe and Andrew Hollister are running write-in campaigns.
The Republican role in precipitating our crisis of democracy is easy for progressives to see. But it also easy for progressives to miss the Democrats’ complicity, from their fecklessness on voting rights and election protection bills in Congress to their active suppression of independent progressive parties. Even without the current crisis, the American system of single-member-district, winner-take-all elections is fundamentally anti-democratic because it systematically excludes most people from being able to vote for and elect candidates to represent their political views in government. Single-seat, winner-take-all elections do that exclusion by creating the spoiler effect and, more fundamentally, by enabling the gerrymandering of non-competitive one-party districts.
It is time for progressives to expand the pro-democracy agenda. Voting rights and election protection laws are certainly part of that agenda so that everybody can vote and elections are fair and honest. But to create an inclusive multi-party democracy, we also need to make fair ballot access, ranked choice voting for executive offices, and proportional ranked choice voting for legislative bodies central to our pro-democracy platform. Ranked choice voting for executive offices eliminates the spoiler problem so voters can vote for who they really want without worrying it might help the candidates they most oppose. Proportional ranked choice voting for legislative bodies eliminates the gerrymandering problem that has rendered over 90% of districts for state legislatures and the House non-competitive one-party districts. Elections in gerrymandered one-party “safe” districts are, like elections in one-party states, farcical rituals because the result is known before the vote is taken. On the other hand, where district lines are drawn is irrelevant for multi-member districts with proportional ranked choice voting because the election yields proportional representation of all political viewpoints.
While the Democrats have been floundering in Congress at trying to protect voting rights and honest elections from Republican frontal assaults, grassroots activists have been making progress in advancing ranked choice voting in the cities and states. Ranked choice voting is now used in two states and 54 local jurisdictions, more than doubling the number of jurisdictions in the last two years. Ten more jurisdictions have ballot measures to implement ranked choice voting on the ballot for the mid-term elections. Ranked choice voting and proportional representation are causes we are winning in our cities, towns, and states. We can advance them at the local and state level no matter who holds the reigns of power in Congress after the mid-terms. It is a cause we can build from below until it becomes an issue Congress cannot avoid.