Party Politic
Shutting out third parties cheats voters out of choice


*In 1996, only 21 percent of eligible voters in the United States registered Republican, and only 33 percent Democrat. That same year, a Times-Mirror poll showed two-thirds of Americans want a third-party option.

The problem is this: while the country needs new solutions, and third parties offer new solutions, the public rarely hears them because the two major parties have written unfair election laws to keep competition off the ballot.

This violates the ethics of democratic fairness as well as the 1990 International Helsinki Accords, which guarantee universal and equal suffrage to all adult citizens, including equal access to election ballots. Although the United States signed the Helsinki Accords, we don't have equal access to election ballots in this country.

The losers are the American people. Scholars show that a great many of the key ideas that shaped our democracy have come from third parties, including the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and child labor laws. New parties may not always win, but their ideas change history by taking part in the public debate. Without them, the flow of new ideas is dammed, and democracy stagnates.

Although this may shock most Americans, ours is the least democratic of all democracies when it comes to ballot access. Every state has different laws. Some require no signatures, some an impossible number, others have secretaries of state who have said that no amount of signatures will put a third party on the ballot -- regardless of what their state laws say.

Although this may shock most Americans, ours is the least democratic of all democracies when it comes to ballot access.

Independents and third parties are hard-pressed looking for justice. The Federal Election Commission and the courts are comprised of Democrats and Republicans, appointed by Democrats and Republicans. Third party and independent candidates are denied equal access to debates, the media and federal campaign funds, as well. The result is that more than half of Americans are being cheated of their freedom to choose candidates who reflect their views.

Even worse, no one has told them exactly how and why they are being cheated. The greatest shock is that much of the press is participating in the injustice by not covering third party candidates (except for billionaire Ross Perot) and not reporting the corruption of our two-party elections.

Have you heard the press report that, out of all the democracies in the world, the United States is the worst violator of the Helsinki Accords, and has been cited by 27 countries for human rights violations with respect to elections? Has the press told you anything substantial (or anything at all) about the nine third party candidates on the ballot in South Carolina?

Democrats and Republicans alike will argue that there should only be two candidates to choose from. They say additional candidates confuse the issues, split votes, or they warn that with too many parties we could end up like European countries.

I say that if we truly want a democracy, then we must remember that only the voters should have the right to choose who will represent them. No editor, no legislature, no attorney general, no secretary of state, no judge, no Election Commission and no debate commission should make the choice for them.

I am not saying there should be no requirements for getting on the ballot, only that requirements should be the same for every candidate in every election year.

More than two candidates does not confuse issues, as can be seen in primaries involving many candidates and debate formats that involve many speakers. The few states that have equal access to the ballot are not swamped with candidates, as some people would have you believe.

To the claim that adding more candidates splits votes, I say that is the voter's right. It is this very process that forces old parties to consider new ideas.

Becoming more like some of the European countries does not scare me considering that many of their governments seem to be more fair and efficient than ours. When you look at the statistics, they are far ahead of us in education, culture, crime prevention, health, quality agriculture, and quality of life.

I do not think that all Democrats and Republicans are horrible. Each party has a few good representatives and some laudable objectives. Their exclusion of opposition is inexcusable, however, and in South Carolina the logistical complexity of their election laws is coming back to haunt them, hurt voters and undermine quality democracy.

This year in South Carolina there will be 95 state and federal "elections" where citizens will have no choice of whom to vote for because only one person will be on the ballot.

For more information on third parties, Taylor suggests reading The Natural Law Party: A Reason to Vote, by Robert Roth.)

George Taylor is chairman of the South Carolina Natural Law Party and a congressional candidate for the 6th District. A native of Columbia, he has worked for decades to promote life in harmony with natural law. He helped to found the Congaree Swamp National Monument, was awarded the top conservation award by S.C. Wildlife Federation, owned one of the first organic farms in South Carolina, and is included in Who's Who Among America's Teachers for contributions to education.

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