Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chair Message

The Importance of Voter Registration

Michael J. “Mik” Robertson

Chair, Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania

Municipal elections are around the corner and a presidential election is looming before us. Now is the time to focus on the importance of voter registration to the Libertarian Party. When legislators, political analysts, members of the press, and many in the general public evaluate the strength and support of a political party, voter registration numbers are viewed as a key measure.

Using this standard, the Libertarian Party remains the third largest political party in the commonwealth, with many more registered voters than the Green Party and Constitution Party (fourth and fifth largest, respectively) combined. Even so, there remains a substantial gap between the second largest political party and us. To bring a consistent challenge the political culture in Pennsylvania, it would help to close that gap.

While over 35,000 voters in Pennsylvania have expressed their discontent with the current system and registered to vote as a Libertarian, I have spoken to many people who agree with the ideas of the Libertarian Party and would like to see a different direction in government, but are reluctant to change their voter registration.

One reason for this is the two major parties perpetuate the myth that the United States has a two-party system and any change must be brought about within this framework. The myth is enhanced by publicly funded nominations and conventions for two political parties, gerrymandered election districts, unequal ballot access laws, and campaign finance laws that deter any real opposition.

This leaves us two political parties claiming at every general election that a vote for the other major party candidate will result in the end of western civilization. Any vote not for them is a vote for the other major party. This appalling scare tactic is used more often in presidential elections. Rest assured, it is not true and you can safely vote for the candidate of your choice.

A more subtle tactic used to perpetuate the current system is to suggest that support for a particular candidate in one of the major parties in the primary election can help change that party and therefore bring about change in government. This is another myth. The leaders of both major parties have become addicted to money and principles have gone out the window.

Although it may seem like a good idea to vote for a major party maverick candidate in the primary election to foster change, the net effect is negative. Party leaders see the participation as a sign of support for their party, and once the candidate is done, it’s back to square one. On the unusual occasions when such a candidate is successful, major party leadership will step in to mute any significant change in the status quo.

Just as the effort to clean sweep legislators in the general assembly, replacing them with candidates of the same two parties, resulted in no significant change in our Commonwealth, so is it likely that support for any national candidates in the major parties result in no significant change in national politics. The two major parties have essentially become two sides of the same coin, with larger, more intrusive government for all.

Most major changes in American politics and government have been when a challenger political party arises to bring about or follow through with change. Political parties may be hard to define in our country’s early stages, at least until federal nominations were no longer made by congress. However, it is clear that the entrenched two-party system we currently have is a relatively recent development, not an American tradition. When substantial changes in American government occurred, it was often spurred by the rise of challenger political parties.

Examples include what became known as the Democratic-Republicans in 1800, the Whigs in the 1830’s, the Republicans in the 1850’s, the Socialist and Progressive Parties in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and more recently Ross Perot’s Reform Party. Even though not all of these parties enjoyed significant electoral success, many did have broad popular support and substantial impact, albeit in some cases briefly. Sadly, in many of these cases the impact was to increase the scope and authority of government or was short-lived.

In order to reverse the trend of expanding government, we must learn some lessons from the past. We will be most effective if we consolidate our efforts to build a credible political party for the long term. While there certainly are major party candidates meriting our support, the best support we can give them is to develop a party where their views are not downplayed, where they will not be hushed by party leadership, and where they can do their job as elected officials to secure the rights of the individual.

This is why it is important that we show the strength of our party whenever and wherever we can. Maintaining a Libertarian voter registration is one unequivocal way to show the two major parties there are still those who believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government. It cannot be construed as support for another party or a system that suppresses opposition views.

If you are not currently registered Libertarian, go to the post office or county election office and change! To bring about a lasting reversal of the trend toward more government, we should all be proudly registered Libertarian voters!

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