Editorial: Making Democracy Work
From the Editor
by Craig Mazer
Nader wins! Nader wins!
It was an impossibility for that headline to appear following the 2000 election and remains unlikely in the 2004 election, given our current system. Nearly 4 million people, however, cast their vote for a third party candidate in the recent election, proving that a lot of Americans are sick and tired of our two-party system.
Of those nearly 4 million people, over 2.5 million cast their vote for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Although he fell shy of the 5% vote needed for matching funds in 2004, what was accomplished was a rallying of support for Nader and the third party concept. Now Nader and other third party activists must seize this opportunity to continue the fight. Things need to change over the next four years, or third party candidates will remain "unviable."
First of all, the public needs to speak out for better and more comprehensive media coverage. The newspapers and TV shows are the first key to exposure, and exposure gets votes. Major media outlets must be pressured to give time to viable third parties such as the Green Party, Reform Party and Libertarian Party. This means giving them the same amount of time and coverage as the Democrats and Republicans. How do we force that? Write them, call them, email them with a plea for honest, fair coverage of elections.
The media says America doesn't care about or want to vote for third parties. How the hell does the media know this? Most Americans know little or nothing about the alternatives to the "big two."
Secondly, the debate process needs to be changed. The "non-partisan" Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) must open the nationally-televised debates to more than just the two major parties. Currently, candidates are required to have at least 15% of the popular vote (according to national public opinion polls prior to the debate) in order to participate in the debates, something very difficult for third party candidates to obtain without media exposure. Proposals have been made to lower this requirement, however, the CPD has ignored them. The fact is, allowing a couple third party candidates into the debates would introduce new concepts and ideas to an American public that is craving for something of substance instead of the wishy-washy rhetoric of the current two-party system. Regardless of whether or not a third party would be elected as a result of their inclusion, at least these new ideas would be on the table and the Republicans and Democrats wouldn't be able to ignore them.
"I think it's a sorry state for a democracy that third party candidates are so shut out and so frustrated by a lack of democracy that we have to do this kind of thing," said Medea Benjamin, a Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate in California, after being cited for trespassing and resisting arrest at a Democratic rally just prior to the 2000 election. Benjamin was excluded from a series of televised debates with Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein.
Finally, the election process needs to drop the electoral college. It's an old system applied to a country that has changed a lot since it was first created. Instead of counting each citizen's vote, it first groups them. Therefore, a vote for a candidate in Alaska means nothing if a majority of that state votes for a different candidate. That doesn't seem fair. Americans need to be trusted with their vote. And their vote should go to the candidate they select, regardless of how the rest of the state votes. We're electing a Federal position, not a state position. Power must be in the hands of the people, not the electoral college. Maybe then people would be more interested in voting.
The system we have is one where most people are voting against the Democratic or Republican candidate. One would be hard-pressed to find many voters who feel Gore or Bush is the candidate for them. More often, people say stuff like, "Bush is too stupid. I can't let him be president" or "Al Gore is too shady to be president." What kind of election system is it when you're not really casting a vote for who you want but rather a vote against who you don't want elected?
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