news that Michigan Gov. John Engler and Florida Gov. Jeb
Bush are seeking to keep Pat Buchanan off the ballot in
their states in November barely caused a ripple. While the
United States keeps a watchful eye on electoral fraud all
over the world, it appears to take a much more benign view
of ballot rigging here at home. Every election is fixed
to ensure that interlopers are kept out. There are four
prominent candidates running for the presidency. But the
presidential debates generally agreed to be the most
important event in the election calendar will feature
only the nominees of the two major parties. The Commission
on Presidential Debates has ruled that to get into the debates
a candidate must be able to enjoy at least 15 percent support
in the polls.
percent is well beyond the reach of any politician who lacks
the financial resources to buy saturation media coverage
the way Ross Perot did in 1992. Moreover, the reliance on
opinion polls is absurd. The purpose of any opinion poll
is not to elicit information but to pressure people into
falling into line. The "majority" opinion is obviously
the correct one and must therefore be adopted. This "majority"
is invariably an artificial creation, the product of carefully
crafted questions. Polls are, remember, quite expensive,
and they are paid for by interested parties who want to
see certain results. The questions are usually devoid of
meaning. A Mori polling handbook instructs interviewers
who are asked what a question means to reply, "Whatever
you want it to mean." Thus, "Is Bill Clinton doing
a good or a bad job as president?" rather depends on
what the job of president entails. The opinions of those
who refuse to take part people sensible enough not
to drop everything to start chatting with a complete stranger
on the phone do not register in the poll results. Those
who refuse to answer a pollster because they find the question
silly will have their opinions remain unregistered. There
is no possibility of a more complicated reply that does
not fit into the multiple-choice quiz format of the questioner.
is hard also to take seriously the requirement that a candidate
must achieve a minimum poll number. The polls are often
wrong. They vary widely, and they fluctuate so wildly as
to render them almost totally devoid of credibility. How
can George W. Bush be up by 17 points one week, and down
by as much as eight points a few weeks later? The American
electorate simply is not that volatile. Since no dramatic
events are taking place, and no hotly contested issues are
being debated, the poll numbers reflect little more than
responses to the poll numbers. The polls generate stories
about the "Gore surge," which in turn serve to
boost the Gore numbers, thereby leading to more stories
about the "Gore surge" and so on.
the United States is perpetually concerned about "opposition
figures" getting media access in places like Yugoslavia,
the cozy relationship here between the media and the political
establishment is rarely up for discussion. The millions
that the two major political parties raise from their donors,
as well as the federal matching funds they collect, are
largely spent on advertising. The money goes directly into
the pockets of the giant media corporations. Thus the media
has every interest in flattering the two major parties and
neglecting the minority parties. The media also conducts
the opinion polls. It is instructive how often they ask
respondents whom they intend to vote for, Bush or Gore,
without so much as hinting that there might be other alternatives.
is very unlikely also that the United States would be particularly
understanding toward another country if it imposed electoral
hurdles on independent parties as numerous and as terrifying
as the ones on the statute books here. Most states require
third parties to gather tens of thousands of signatures
for a petition to be on the state ballot. There are also
often strict deadlines on the gathering of such signatures.
A candidate for president running in the Democratic or Republican
primary can get on the ballot simply by paying a filing
fee, although some states do require that a primary candidate
submit a petition signed by a not especially large number
of voters. By contrast, a candidate running as an independent
in the general election will have to collect thousands of
petition signatures in each state to be on the ballot.
presidential candidates and third-party nominees need approximately
750,000 valid signatures to be on the general election ballot
of all 50 states. For Democrats and Republicans, access
is virtually automatic. Democratic Party candidates require
25,500 signatures and Republican Party candidates 54,250
signatures. Thirty-two of the 41 states that hold presidential
primaries require no signatures from the major-party candidates.
Candidates who, amazingly, manage to get on 50 state ballots
end up exhausted and penniless, very much like Pat Buchanan.
Were it not for the federal matching funds, his campaign
would be more or less over today.
ballot restrictions were enacted for the sole purpose of
denying third parties and independent candidates access
to power. In 1924, only 50,000 petition signatures were
required to place a new party on the ballot in 48 states.
During the 1930s, laws were passed to make ballot access
increasingly more difficult. New parties had to gather more
and more signatures and to file for application earlier
and earlier in the campaign year. In the aftermath of George
Wallaces remarkable run, ballot-access became extraordinarily
Milosevic should send over a Yugoslav observer mission to
monitor Novembers election.