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It’s Time To Open Up Our Political System

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carroll G. Robinson, Esq., Dr. Michael O. Adams & Girraud Stephens
July 28, 2019

If the problem of extreme partisan gerrymandering is to really be fixed, it has to start with moving away from the premise that protecting and entrenching the political power of the existing two major political parties is the best and only way to protect the stability of our democracy.

Political parties are essentially private entities  that have been given quasi-governmental status to make it easier to hold them judicially accountability to prevent them from engaging in racial discrimination. (See California Democratic Party v. Jones from 2000 and Smith v. Allwright from 1944). But see also Grovey vs. Townsend from 1935. The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Texas Democratic Party was a private organization that could legally ban African Americans from voting in the Party’s primary election.

To end partisan gerrymandering, our nation’s political system needs to be opened up to more political parties. 

Ballot access laws need to be modernized (which is highly unlikely as the two parties now control state legislatures), or the United States Supreme Court needs to overrule its existing ballot access precedents to make it easier for so-called Third Parties (and Independents) to field candidates and give voters more of a choice at all levels of government, especially at the state legislative, congressional and presidential levels.

It’s time to acknowledge that the old arguments of preventing chaos in elections and keeping frivolous candidates off the ballot have simply been straw men arguments for protecting the privileged status of the two major parties while underestimating the competency of voters. 

The Supreme Court ballot access decisions have entrenched the political power of the two main political parties over the right of the people (voters) to have more options at the ballot box. This is the real cause of extreme partisan gerrymandering. Voters have a fundamental right to vote for the candidate of their choice and that right should not be artificially limited to just two choices. Multi-party democracies are not an anomaly and they have not destabilized or destroyed those democracies.

Redistricting Commissions are not enough to give voters real (or more) options at the ballot box as they are still an entrenchment and reinforcement of the two-party status quo. Redistricting Commissions do not draw districts that are competitive for independent candidates or voters. They simply attempt to more equitably distribute election districts between the two major political parties. They don’t draw districts focused on giving voters more options beyond the existing two major parties.

All that Redistricting Commissions really do is divvy up political power between the two major political parties. They don’t create opportunities for other parties or their candidates or allow voters to have more options when it comes to candidates to vote for.

Even open/blanket and jungle primary systems are not enough because voters are still overwhelmingly just limited to two choices—R or D.

Alternative voting methodologies such as rank order voting are a good idea, but alternative voting methods must be coupled with more candidate choices for voters. This means we must move beyond protecting and promoting the existing two-party system. (Professor Carroll G. Robinson is a supporter of alternative voting systems. See her 1997 writing, “Minority Voting a Rights and Judicial Selection Reform in Texas: Why Not A Modified At-Large Voting System?,” in the Hispanic Law Journal from The University of Texas School of Law in Volume 3, Number 1 on page 11.)

Our democracy is strong enough to withstand more competition and more political parties with easier ballot access to the ballot all across our nation.

It’s time for the United States Supreme Court to overrule it’s ballot access cases to make it easier for voters to have more options on at the ballot box.

All the things that people now claim to be arguing for in opposing extreme partisan gerrymandering were not too long ago opposed by the two major political parties because it could possibly lead to too many Americans voting in their party primary.

In California Democratic Party vs. Jones, the Court struck down a California voter-approved initiative intended to open up the state’s party primary process to more voters. In striking down the law, the Court determined that, “Enhancing the democratic nature of the election process, achieving increased representativeness of elected officials, giving voters more choices and increasing voter turnout and participation,” were not compelling state interests. What mattered was protecting the two major political parties as private entities so long as they did not engage in racial, religious, gender or other forms of prohibited discrimination.

Instead of enshrining the current two party system by moving us closer to a proportional representation system, the Supreme Court’s recent decision on extreme partisan gerrymandering now gives us an opportunity to open up our political system so that voters can have more choices, more voices can be heard and more people can utilize political leverage to exercise more political power to drive progressive change.

If you want more accountability from the two major political parties, it’s time to bring more competition into our political system. If the major parties are afraid of competition, then it’s time for them to go the way of the Whigs. 

Authors: Carroll G. Robinson and Michael O. Adams political science and public administration faculty members at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. Girraud Stephens is a Third-year law student at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. The authors wish to thank him for his research assistance.


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