The Rules Matter: U.S. Parties

By Krist Novoselić

In my last post, I wrote about the U.K. election and how the first-past-the-post (FPTP) rules produced distorted results. This happened because a multitude of parties overwhelmed what should be, with FPTP, a two-party system. Still, we must ask why there are so many parities drawing so many votes in the U.K.?

In most of the free world, political parties are private groups. I offer that in the U.S., state controls on association stifle free association and have institutionalized the two major political parties. The result is a system tilted in the favor of political elites.

The institutionalization of the two major parties is a result of a variety of circumstances. One of the biggest is the state monopoly on nominations. Nominations for office are at the heart of political association. Imagine a bicycle club that doesn’t ride, a book group that doesn’t read — this is the situation with U.S. political parties as most states conduct the nomination process for major parties. The effect of this is weak political association.

This monopoly is usually administered with a partisan primary, or until recently, a California and Washington style Top-Two runoff primary and election. Either way, active party members are sidelined by the state. The effects of this dilution of association are many.

State monopolies over association may have scrubbed grassroots parties from elections, nevertheless, other groups dominate. Special interests like PACs, unions and other elite groups fill in the vacuum left by weak parties. Money in elections tends to dominate over grassroots efforts. Campaign spending by elites will define the campaign with their negative messages dominating over real issues.

There are more state controls.

The structure of parties that qualify as “major” are set in many state statutes. Look up your state’s major parties (Democratic and Republican) in your state law code and you will likely find the rules that organize their grassroots from the bottom up. This means we have state parties in America. Many jurisdictions also impose burdensome ballot access requirements on third-parties and independent candidates — while major party candidates can easily get on the ballot.

DECENTRALIZED ELECTIONS

The United States does not have any national elections. Even for president, it is up to each state, in such a manner of their choosing, to appoint presidential electors. U.S. Senators represent states that are carved into single-member U.S. House districts. There are also 7383 individual state legislators. U.S. election administration is spread over 3007 counties.

The idea behind the Open Source Party (OSP) is for people to use technology as a platform for political association / social networking. This page my be the genesis for a federal OSP, however, due to the nature of elections in the United States, it is up to activists in the various states and localities to organize chapters.

We are currently drafting model bylaws for interested people to use in their own states and communities. These bylaws provide the structure of the party and how local OSP groups, within public elections, could; nominate their own candidates, fuse with other parties or endorse existing candidates for the public ballot. In addition, there are proposals for party platforms and resolutions.

State control of political association the United States is antiquated. We must examine the negative effect of this policy on our democracy. Stifling free association could be the root of the current imbalanced politics in our nation.

Through technology, we seek to manifest a collective voice engaging an open democracy.