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Charles Ballay, M.D., Libertarian, Regarding Presidential Ballot Access

A Tale of Two Democracies

In 2005, my cousin served as an Army Ranger stationed in Baghdad during the Iraqi parliamentary election. His duty was to safeguard a city pulsing with voters braving insurgent threats. He retells this story, proud to have played a vital role in helping promote democracy. He spoke of watching Iraqis, undeterred by danger, sometimes dancing in jubilation, trekking miles under threat of death heading to polling stations as an emblem of democratic determination. This scene starkly contrasts with the current electoral landscape in the United States of America. The USA is a nation lauded for its global advocacy of democracy yet struggles with internal democratic challenges, especially concerning voter dissent regarding limited presidential political choice, some of some-of-which brought on by restrictive ballot access policies. Lack of access by third-party and independent candidates has led to stagnation and voter apathy.

Let's put the 'American Democratic ideal' into perspective. Historically, U.S. engagement in foreign elections has been complex and sometimes contradictory but mostly aligned with promoting 'democratic ideals.' For instance, American interventions in Nicaragua from the 19th century to the 1980s were primarily aimed at curtailing antithetical or Marxist regimes. Similarly, U.S. involvement in Chile's 1973 coup d'état led to the overthrow of a democratically elected government. While aligned with U.S. strategic interests at the time, these actions often resulted in unexpected outcomes at odds with our nation's democratic values. Unfortunately, such interventions sometimes highlight hypocrisy in U.S. democratic policy; we promote democratic ideals and leaders if they serve the United States' interests. We do not full-heartedly support the same at home.

Let us provide some degree of self-appraisal. Domestically, the U.S. faces a major democratic dilemma regarding presidential ballot access. The current mantra of USA presidential politics should be, "Vote. But only if maintaining the status quo." New ideas, ideals, and leaders are needed, yet third-party candidates, for instance, must fight for ballot access. For example, Oklahoma mandates that independent presidential candidates gather signatures totaling 3% of the last presidential or gubernatorial vote count. This requirement is both time-intensive and resource-heavy. In New York, stringent regulations, like those introduced by former Governor Andrew Cuomo, pose incredible hurdles for parties like the Libertarian Party, exemplifying a broader challenge for political diversity. Such limitations marginalize alternative views and stifle political dissent. Some states, however, do make note of the need for inclusivity and should be lauded. Take, for example, Louisiana's ‘jungle primary’ system, where candidates from all affiliations share the same ballot, which fosters a competitive environment. States like Colorado and Alaska, each with unique electoral systems, underscore the need for a standardized approach to ensuring political plurality in the U.S.

This patchwork of state laws often restricts voter choice to the two dominant parties, which has led to political apathy and low voter turnout. This reality sharply contrasts with the scenes in Baghdad, where, while not entirely similar, voters faced threats but took it upon themselves to exercise their democratic rights.

The U.S. has made strides in addressing racial disparities in voting districts, but similar efforts need to be more present in expanding political diversity. The extensive debates on gerrymandering and racial representation starkly contrast the relative inaction on broadening presidential ballot access for alternative political voices. This discrepancy highlights an incomplete commitment to democratic principles.

The narrative of U.S. electoral practices, both domestically and internationally, reveals a tapestry of democratic ideals interwoven with pragmatic concerns. As the U.S. influences democratic outcomes worldwide, it must retrospect and reform its presidential electoral system. Beyond the Democratic and Republican parties, voices like the Libertarian, No Labels, Green, Independent, and others deserve consideration. Inclusivity, not exclusivity, is critical to a unified nation. Inspired by voters' courage in conflict zones and U.S. soldiers' commitment to democracy, the U.S. must ensure its presidential electoral practices reflect the democratic values it advocates globally. Only by actively engaging in inclusive political discourse can we, the American people, create positive change and a better United States of America.

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