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The Real Problem With an Independent Run for President

Despite the slogan of government "of the people, by the people, for the people," the sad reality is that the United States' political institutions have a strong overtone of authoritarianism

American voters don't have enough choice.(Photo: Illustrated | Chipmunk131/Shutterstock, Wikimedia Commons)

American voters don't have enough choice. (Photo: Illustrated | Chipmunk131/Shutterstock, Wikimedia Commons)

Green Party radicals and dopey coffee magnate Howard Schultz agree: American voters don't have enough choice. If you don't like the options put forth by the Republican or Democratic parties, with rare exceptions you can either cast a largely symbolic protest vote or go pound sand. The result is that "both parties are consistently not doing what's necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged, every single day, in revenge politics," complains Schultz.

Yet in all his interviews and speeches, Schultz has not once identified the major reason why there is no national third party. The reason is that America is a two-party state — where both the GOP and the Democrats are part of the government and have used state power to erect near-insurmountable barriers to third party competition.

Here's how it works. As Seth Ackerman explained in detail some time ago, Democratic and Republican Party bosses have conspired over the years to make running outside the two-party system all but impossible. Third parties or independent candidates are saddled with tremendous signature-collection requirements (hundreds or thousands of times as many as in peer nations), and other burdensome rules. Then the ones that do fulfill onerous legal requirements are subject to intense legal harassment, typically by the dominant party in whatever state is in question. This is usually carried out by party hack lawyers getting party hack judges to disqualify signatures, filing endless lawsuits quibbling over candidate eligibility, or other such tactics.

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Notably, most of these requirements do not apply to the Democrats or Republicans, who are automatically granted ballot access in most states. Thus established, the parties are then effectively guaranteed representation in powerful government institutions — like the Federal Communications Commission, where each party always has at least two out of five seats.

Incidentally, that is why most even slightly successful independent runs for president are done by ultra-rich people who can afford to hire battalions of signature gatherers and lawyers.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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