The Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California
Reprinted with permission
The following editorial appeared in the Press-Telegram on Monday, October 5, 1998.
A Reason To Vote Relevance: Third parties could re-engage the electorate, but only if their voices can be heard.
Author Robert Roth was speaking recently to about 200 students at Cal State San Diego, and asked how many in the audience were Democrats; two hands went up. Republicans? One hand. The results are similar on campuses all over the country.
That may look like a recruiting opportunity to big-party faithfuls, but to us it looks more like a problem, to the parties at least. The newest generation of voters don't see themselves at all as Democrats or Republicans, and what is more serious, they don't see much relevance to the political process.
Of course this sense of irrelevance reaches far beyond campuses. In the 1998 primary elections, only 16.8 percent of Americans who were eligible to vote actually did. That level of participation would have horrified our Founding Fathers, who believed that their experiment in democracy could survive only with the active participation of an informed electorate. For the first 100 years and more, the participation was vigorous. Compare present-day turnouts, for example, with the elections of the 1800s, when 80 percent of those eligible voted, and when the two main political parties were in energetic competition with several smaller but viable parties.
That last point is at the heart of Roth's point. Today's two big political parties not only dominate the process, but they are making sure they divide the spoils without sharing. In the past century, particularly in recent years, they have erected formidable barriers to outsiders. The two parties have engineered the election process so that others can't join in the national debate, and must spend heavily of their resources just to get on the ballot. Nationally, Democrats and Republicans need no signatures, but the number required for other parties to get on a ballot now is more than 5 million, compared to, say, the Netherlands, where it is 190; Germany, where it is 200 per candidate; Canada, 25100 per candidate; or Britain and France, zero.
State requirements are proportionally as bad: Florida requires none for Democrats and Republicans, but wants 200,000 per candidate for new parties, which is more than all the countries in Europe, plus Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined.
Do you see a pattern here? The two big parties don't want you to hear anyone else's message, and they are succeeding fairly well. So far.
Roth is determined to change that and his book, "The Natural Law Party: A Reason to Vote," which has climbed to the No. 12 position on the Amazon.com. Internet best-seller list, makes a lucid case for change. As he notes, Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest president, was elected when his Republican Party was only three years old; and the concept of abolition, which was much too politically incorrect in those slaveholding days to be mentioned by a major political party, was advanced by the small Liberty Party.
If you read Roth's book, you may or may not end up voting in November for one of the Natural Law candidates he is promoting. They advocate policies that are driven by a sort of common-sense adherence to the nation's founding principles and to shifting more resources toward preventing disease and crime, rather than repairing their ravages; to educational innovations, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, deep but responsible tax cuts and lessening the effects of special interests on government.
You might instead favor other candidates, or go for a straight big-party ticket, or even be tempted to sit this one out. But consider Roth's message. Like those unaffiliated and disaffected students who are looking for new pathways, you will hear new voices offering a sound rationale for engaging fully in the political process. And you certainly will find a reason to vote.
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