Feb 18, 2008

Minor political parties hope to move up to the big leagues

The race for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees has captured the nation's attention and taught us some new words, such as caucus, delegate counts and super-delegates.

But what about the nomination process for the so-called minor parties such as the Green Party, the Libertarian Party and the Natural Law Party? Each political party sets their own nomination process, and that may include an election, a caucus or a convention. Each state sets the standard for how the party appears on the ballot. Just gaining access to and getting on the ballot is often the biggest hurdle for most third parties, and rarely does the party gain ballot access in every state.

In Michigan, the Republican and Democratic parties are designated major parties, and as such they are the only parties that will appear on the ballot for the Aug. 5 primary election when the two parties will choose their candidates to run in November for local partisan offices and state representative. The standard for a major party to appear on the primary ballot is to have at least 5 percent of the votes received by the winning Secretary of State candidate in the election, which is held in even-numbered years. The hurdle from the Nov. 7, 2006, election was 186,096 votes.

For the minor parties to appear on the ballot for the Nov. 4, 2008, general election, the top-of-the-ticket candidate – whether it’s a presidential candidate or a hopeful for a statewide office such as a university trustee position – must receive at least 1 percent of the vote the successful Secretary of State candidate received in the Nov. 7, 2006, general election. The parties qualified for this November are the Green Party of Michigan, the U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan, the Libertarian Party of Michigan and the Natural Law Party. That only applies to Michigan, and even though the Green Party, for example, may have a strong presidential candidate, the candidate may not be on the ballot in a more conservative state.

A coalition of the state minor parties have partnered with the Michigan Third Party Coalition (MTPC) to try to end public funding of primary elections and to push a Voters Bill of Rights to end political discrimination against independent voters.

“We are calling it discrimination,” said Will Tyler White, a member of the Libertarian Party of Michigan executive board. “If you are not a Republican or Democrat, you are discriminated against.”

White said the presidential primary fiasco in Michigan really illustrates their point, especially in light of talk that the Democrats are considering holding a caucus because the national Democratic Party refuses to seat Michigan delegates.

“This is a waste of millions of tax-payer dollars for a private entity,” he said.

Those parties that did not meet the necessary threshold in November 2006 can still qualify to be on the general election ballot with a petition drive. They must first file as a new political party even if they have been around for many years. The party must collect petition signatures equal to 1 percent of the votes cast for the governor. That comes out to 38,013 signatures, and the deadline for turning in petitions is 4 p.m. July 17, 2008.

The U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan will choose its candidates at its state convention on May 3 at the Okemos Christian Center. Party Treasurer Joe Sanger said more than 50 people have expressed an interest, and the party hopes to have more than 100 candidates from county commissioner to state representative on the ballot.

“We have a nominating committee, and they will be nominated at the convention,” he said. “We try and get them vetted before the convention.”

The U.S. Taxpayers Party is part of the conservative Constitution Party. The official name of the party was changed from Taxpayers Party to Constitution Party in 1999, but many states still carry the Taxpayer name. The Constitution Party advocates a Bible-based platform, which it claims reflects the original intent of the U.S. Constitution and the principles of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Sanger said some tenets of the platform include eliminating the federal income tax in favor of a tariff. The national party will hold its convention April 23-26 in Kansas City to choose its presidential candidate.

“We expect to have a large delegation from Michigan,” Sanger said.

One of the largest third parties in the country is the Green Party, and it has reached major-party status in some states, meaning its candidates are on the primary ballot. The party attracts many liberals and environmentalists. The party had a big effect on the 2000 presidential election between former Vice President Al Gore and former Texas Gov. George Bush. Many Democrats claim Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader siphoned off Democratic votes for Gore in many states, helping Bush win.

Green presidential candidates took part in four primaries on Super Tuesday, and former Democrat U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney from Georgia won in Arkansas and Illinois. Nader took California. The Green Party will hold its 2008 national convention in Chicago from July 10-13.

A party that has the potential to drain voters from the Republican Party is the Libertarian Party. Republican presidential candidate Texas Congressman Ron Paul was the party’s presidential candidate in 1988, and he garnered 432,179 popular votes. The Michigan group has a message on its Web site inviting Paul supporters to join the Libertarian Party. However, Paul said he plans to concentrate on his presidential campaign as a Republican, but that could always change by convention time in Denver.

“He brought a lot of visibility to the party,” White said. “There are a lot of Libertarians supporting him.”

The Libertarian Party has a strong conservative bent, and its traditional platform includes minimum regulation, strong civil liberties, open borders and non-interventionism in foreign policy that respects freedom of trade and travel to all foreign countries.

The party will hold its national convention to choose its presidential nominee May 22-26 in Denver. The Libertarian Party of Michigan will hold its state convention June 7-8 at the Best Western Gateway Hotel in Romulus.

The Natural Law Party was founded in the United States in 1992 in Fairfield, Iowa, by a group of educators, business leaders and lawyers who practiced Transcendental Meditation. Despite growing ballot access, the Natural Law Party officially disbanded its national organization on April 30, 2004, although a few state parties still remain active. The state party does not have a Web site, and the party chair did not return repeated phone calls.

There are numerous other smaller third parties in the country, but only four in Michigan - the Green Party, the Libertarian Party and the Natural Law Party - have ballot access. Currently, there are no parties seeking ballot status, according to the Michigan Secretary of State. One party not on the ballot in Michigan is the Reform Party of Michigan, and the party stands for a balanced federal budget. However, party officials in Michigan said they do not plan to try to get on the ballot this election.

“It takes a major effort to get on the ballot,” said Matt Johnson, of Ironwood, the vice chair of the party in Michigan. “It generally takes a big name and lot of money to do it.”

No comments: