The high cost of ballot access in the USA makes the political system more of a plutocracy and less of a democracy. The people can’t rule if only the rich can get on the ballot.

An article By Shane Goldmacher in Politico 11/27/15, “The 2016 ballot wars begin,” explains the long and complex process that presidential candidates have to struggle with to get on the ballots of the 50 states plus US territories. Some states require a fee of thousands of dollars to get on the ballot, and others require thousands of signatures from its districts.

A candidate for president achieves prestige as well as more nomination votes if he or she can get on the ballot of all 50 states. That achievement costs over a million dollars. Plutocracy - the rule by the rich - is built into the US election system. The top-tier candidates can accomplish this goal, but the less known and less wealthy candidates will not be able to get on all the ballots.

Republican candidate Carly Fiorina stated that “party bosses... rig the game… to protect the establishment candidates.” Candidates such as Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal are dropping out as they don’t have the funds needed for ballot access. Some candidates, especially those who ran campaigns in the past, or can harness volunteers, but that requires a devoted following that most do not have.

Fortunately for the candidates, at least they will not have to do the work of gathering the access rules themselves. The Republican National Lawyers Association provides a guide to getting on the ballot for all the states and territories. The challenge is the expense of filing and signature-gathering.

For example, Alabama imposes a $10,000 fee to get on its primary ballot to get its delegates to the nominating convention. Virginia has a December 10 closing date for 5,000 signatures, which must include 200 from each congressional district.

There are two remedies for this undemocratic ballot system. One is to have a single national ballot-access law. A constitutional problem with federal access is that in the presidential election, voters are technically not voting for president but for the state delegates to the Electoral College, which then elects the president. Thus the states are not formally putting the president on the ballot, but the delegates pledged to that candidate, so it makes legal sense for the delegates themselves to have state support with signatures.

The better, but more radical, remedy is to abolish the national election for president. Have Congress elect the president. But then the election of the representatives and senators would need reforming also—have them elected by the state legislatures. Have the legislatures elected by the county boards, who in turn are elected by the city councils and county districts, who have been elected by small neighborhood councils.

The better, but more radical, remedy is to abolish the national election for president. Have Congress elect the president. But then the election of the representatives and senators would need reforming also—have them elected by the state legislatures. Have the legislatures elected by the county boards, who in turn are elected by the city councils and county districts, who have been elected by small neighborhood councils.

If we want to see a model of good organization, examine what nature has created. Just as the biological body is built from small cells, the political body can be structured from neighborhood voting cells, thus replacing what sociologist Max Weber called “mass democracy” with small-group or cellular democracy. When people vote only for their neighborhood council, this does not require thousands of signatures and dollars. Moreover, tiny-group voting does not require the expense of mass-media advertizing. The candidates can be personally known.

Rather than having a circus of a dozen candidates in a televised debate with one minute for slogans, criticism, and talking points, in the neighborhood meetings there is time for meaningful political discussions. There local debates are especially meaningful because their neighborhood council will elect, from its members, a representative to the city council (or in a large city, the district council that elects the city council representatives). The bottom-up election process makes it important to elect sensible candidates to the political foundation, the neighborhood councils.

Everybody knows that the American political system, the system that we want all the people in the world to copy, is drenched with the corruption of campaign money.

Everybody knows that the American political system, the system that we want all the people in the world to copy, is drenched with the corruption of campaign money. This money is needed, as there is an inherent demand for funds for campaign access and for the mass media. While a few candidates are able to perform on small contributions, the winning candidates of mass democracy have relied on contributions from special interests in exchange for providing corporate welfare, union privileges, a tangled legal system that guarantees lucrative incomes for lawyers, and the implicit subsidy nobody talks about, the enhancement of land value from public services.

Just as most tax reformers want to make only marginal adjustments, most election reformers seek to only adjust the current system, such as government funding for campaign advertizing, or limitations on campaign contributions. But if the system itself is inherently corrupting and democracy squashing, only a radical decentralization will fix what is wrong.

© Text Copyright Fred Foldvary, Ph.D. rights reserved.
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