Major Parties: Publicly Funded Private Groups

2008 Wahkiakum County Public Primary Ballot
2008 Wahkiakum County Public Primary Ballot

By Krist Novoselić

Ask most Republicans and they’ll talk your ear off about private initiative and how government can stifle innovation. However, their own party does not practice what it preaches.

Our right of association is protected in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. People have a right to come together and amplify their voices. This is at the heart of what constitutes a political party and is different from the express constitutional rights reserved by the federal government itself. That said, the Republicans and Democrats—two private groups that are not articulated in our founding document—have become part of government.

My point is that we have state parties in the United States. This is a result of policy choices and not necessarily the effect of interpretations of the constitution.

For example, nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it mandate 435 House of Representative seats. Neither does it say that this chamber elect its members with single member districts. Rather, these are political decisions made by Congress—with the effect of entrenching incumbents from the two state parties that dominate the federal government.

The individual states decide how to elect their delegates to Congress. They are only constrained by the constitutional proviso that Congress make its own qualifications for electing its members. For example, individual states cannot impose term limits on federal candidates, unless Congress allowed them to. There is latitude with elections however, and most states choose plurality winner rules, while a few choose runoffs. Most states also use partisan primaries for major parties nominations. There are also statutory rules on “major” parties where party officers are elected through a state program. (See the image above) These political choices tend produce a two-party duopoly.

Free Association

Last night, another glaring spectacle on television was the GOP presidential debate. All of the hype aside, there were no candidates for president on stage—none of these men are on the ballot for that office in any state. What they are running for is the nomination of the Republican Party.

With the traditional idea of a party, members need to choose a candidate to articulate needs and values of the group. Once chosen, the nominee is then the ambassador to voters at large. These candidates then mostly run in partisan primaries administered by the states. However, in certain states, such as Iowa and Washington, the parties choose to have private caucuses to allocate their state party delegates to the national convention. This means any citizen who wants to declare affiliation with the party can attend to select delegates.

Washington State just passed legislation offering major parties the opportunity to allocate delegates to the convention by primary. However, the Washington State Democratic Party is refusing the offer. This is an example of a party exercising its constitutional right of association and expression—both enshrined in the 1st Amendment. There is nothing the state can legally do to make the Party choose its delegates through a public ballot.

There is no clause in the constitution, or any legal interpretation thereof, supporting public primaries for presidential nominees. A state legislature choosing to conduct a presidential primary is a result of a political act and adhering to this policy decision is up to the private groups/major parties themselves.

Remember the merits of private initiative and innovation? The GOP do not seem to. In Washington State, the Party says it will allocate half of its presidential delegates through a public primary, and the other half through a private caucus. The state primary proposes $11 million of public money to mail exclusive party ballots to every registered voter in the state.

I have previously written how the French Socialist Party conducts privately funded and administered presidential primaries. In the United States, with our decentralized party system, county party central committees could not only host these “Firehouse” primaries, they could also offer optional on-line voting for people to participate in the party’s nominations.

Alas, this is the American political system where the best we get in engaging democracy and technology is a Twitter feed from someone watching the GOP debate/show on television. How can we have innovation when most peoples’ eyeballs are glued to what the state parties are up to? This is why you need to join the OSP so we can build a 21st Century democracy!

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If you are still interested in the current field of GOP candidates, check out this nifty app where you can rank the candidates in order of preference. This produces a majority winner and gives you insight in who tends to rise as a result of being a voter’s second and third choices.

Better yet, sign up for the Open Source Party and help us create a new paradigm for American Democracy.