In 1916 a socialist ran for president of the United States. The US Post Office, stretching bck to the American Revolution, had always granted free or nearly free postage for newspapers and magazines, so socialist tracts and magazines had subscription lists in the millions. The 1916 socialist candidate got 600,000 votes, about 3% of the total. The first World War was on the horizon, and socialists opposed that war, viewing it as a conflict between empires in which ordinary people had no stake. So the US government ended postal subsidies for newspapers and magazines.
In 1920, another socialist, Eugene Victor Debs ran for president. By then a widespread crackdown on socialists in public life was underway, and Debs was imprisoned for his opposition to World War 1. Debs got 900,000 votes, 4% of the total cast from his cell in a federal prison in Indiana.
In 1924 another socialist, Robert LaFollette ran for president on the ticket of the Progressive Party and got 5 million votes, one sixth of the total votes cast for president that year.
The establishment was in a sort of panic. The lords of capital, the bankers, the industrialists, represented today as they were a hundred years ago by the Democrats and the Republicans were not about to allow themselves to be simply voted out of power. So they passed a briar patch of restrictive laws on the state level to make it increasingly difficult or impossible for socialist candidates to get on the ballot in the first place.
These barriers to ballot access are so high,and have been in place so long that the left has for the most part accepted them like laws of gravity, unspoken, immutable, unchangeable and unnoticed. The most effective of these laws, which are still with us today, are the petitioning laws, rules which do not apply to Republican or to Democratic parties or their candidates, but only to other parties whom voters might go for if only they were allowed access to the ballot. Having been law for a hundred years now, most people have forgotten the purpose of these laws or are simply not aware of them at all. But they are still on the books and with some variations, still enforced in about half the 50 states.
For all its faults and lapses, right now, in the years 2019 and 2020, the only national party that calls itself socialist – more precisely ecosocialist – outside the Democrats and Republicans and intent upon competing with them is the Green Party. And the Green Party is intent on organizing to break the two party monopoly on the ballot. It won’t be cheap and it won’t be easy, and it hasn’t been done nationally in the hundred years that the restrictive anti-socialist ballot access laws have been in place.
In Texas for instance, a party other than the Democrats or Republicans, whose ballot access is grandfathered in, must gather 83,000 signatures in 75 days, and they must be voters who have not recently voted in either a Republican or a Democratic party primary election. As a practical matter, this would require the full time mobilization of about 200 signature collectors dispersed around the state for ten and a half weeks. It’s not impossible, but it is expensive and difficult.
In Georgia, a state with less than half the population of Texas, new parties are required to gather a little over 65,000 signatures over a 14 month period. This is what’s called a party petition, since it allows a qualifying party to place candidates via nomination at a state convention. Georgia also separates congressional elections from all others, so a more restrictive rule applies to congressional candidates, who must produce 18 to 24 thousand petition signatures of qualified registered voters. Like many other states, Georgia law also provides a presidential-only petition, with a much lower requirement of only 7,500 signatures, but presidential-only petitions actually prevent the building of local party organizations, since they do not allow for the running of candidates for local office.
Alabama requires 51,500 signatures to put a new party on the ballot with the ability to name candidates for all partisan elected offices, but a much lower threshold for presidential only campaigns. Generally Greens prefer not to run presidential only campaigns for the quite sensible reason that building local electoral power requires local candidates and local campaigns, in addition to somebody at the top of the ticket.
Tennessee law demands the Greens come up with 56,000 signatures for party access to the ballot; Ohio, 43,200; Indiana 42,900; Oklahoma 35,600; and Illinois 25,000 signatures in 90 says, and this is far from a complete list of even the worse offenders. Again, most of states allow lower petitioning thresholds for presidential-only campaigns. The most extreme example is Minnesota, which requires only 2,000 signatures for a presidential-candidate-only ballot access, but demands more than a hundred thousand signatures to allow a party to nominate local candidates throughout the state.
Greens will not formally choose their presidential candidate until the summer of 2020, but the presumptive nominee is New York’s Howie Hawkins, a retired teamster out of Syracuse who was one of the party’s founders and the first candidate of any party to campaign on the Green New Deal. Hawkins is the only one of the Green candidates to have put together a team and begun to raise the $3 to $5 million it will take to run a credible campaign in 2019 and 2020. Ballot access is the key. Without breaking the century old ballot access barriers which the capitalist parties have erected against challenges from the left the Greens or any other socialists are going nowhere fast.
The battle for national ballot access for the Green Party will require about 1.2 million petition signatures nationwide, a load of organizing talent and a good $2 million dollars. The talent is mostly there, the money has to be raised, beginning now. By the summer of 2020 when Democrats kick Bernie Sanders to the curb again it will be too late. Petitioning deadlines in places like Arizona and Kansas fall in the early spring of 2020, so efforts in these and a dozen other states need to be off the ground in late fall and winter. There’s a reason these barriers have blocked socialist challengers from the ballot for a century now. It’s what they were designed to do.
HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO… Go to http://howiehawkins.us and take a look at what the Real Green New Deal, not the pale Democratic appropriation of the name is all about. Then drop some coin, make a donation to the only campaign dedicated to organizing a national attempt to break the restrictive ballot access regime wide open – that’s Howie Hawkins’ campaign. Know that once the Hawkins campaign gathers $5,000 in each of 20 states in donations of $250 and less it qualifies for matching funds from the Federal Elections Commission, a law that fearful Democrats are trying to scuttle in HR 1.
Your donation NOW helps us break the ballot access barrier in 2020. Even if you’re a one of those who calls yourself a Democrat and a socialist, your position inside the capitalist party can only be strengthened by the existence of a viable left OUTSIDE that party as well. And if Bernie or Bust busts again, you’ll be needing a new home. We’re building it now. Bernie has a plan B. It’s Joe Biden or Kamala Harris or Pete WhatsHisHame. What’s your plan B?
For Black Agenda Radio Commentaries I’m Bruce Dixon. In full disclosure, I’m a Green and a member of Howie Hawkins’ campaign committee too.
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