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Old 04-15-2020, 01:32 PM
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Could the Democratic Party have kept Bernie off the primaries?


This point has come up in various permutations over the past few months, and as a furriner, I'm confused.

Over in the "Bernie Withdraws" thread, Left Hand of Dorkness says this:

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Originally Posted by Left Hand of Dorkness View Post
This is so silly. If the Democratic Party has set up rules for running as a Democrat, and he's following the rules, why the hell is it his fault if you think the rules should exclude him? He's not the one who set those rules up.

If you don't like how he followed the rules to run as a Democrat, direct your snark at the party officials who failed to change the rules in 2017, and who likely won't change the rules now.

Politics isn't a team sport. He used the mechanisms of power by the rules those mechanisms set up to try to change the balance of power. You can't ask for fairer than that.
But I thought, from previous threads on primaries, that access to the ballot for primary elections is determined by state laws? And if you as a candidate meet the state's requirements to enter a primary, the party can't keep you from entering? And, since those state laws are set by the 50 states, there are 50 different requirements for entering?

Or is it true, as Left Hand of Dorkness seems to suggest, the Democratic Party could have barred him from the primaries in all 50 states? (I'm reading his comment as meaning the party, not the Democratic members in the state legislatures who might be able to amend the laws?)

And, Left Hand of Dorkness, I'm not meaning to criticise you; this was just the most recent time I've seen a comment along this line, so I'm using it to illustrate my question.
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Old 04-15-2020, 01:48 PM
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I don't think they could bar him from the ballots, but I'm assuming they could easily reject any delegate votes for him. Basically say that any delegates votes for someone who has not been a registered democrat for so many years would not be counted.
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Old 04-15-2020, 02:29 PM
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Party primary rules are determined by the party, even if the states and localities then administer the elections. AFAICT, a party could order that "only candidates who have gotten 5000 signatures from 38 year old people named Lindsay or Lindsey will appear on the ballot" and that's how it would go.
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Old 04-15-2020, 07:24 PM
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But this news item from an earlier thread on primaries indicates that the federal courts have upheld the power of the states to determine the process the parties can use to nominate their candidates. The Circuit Court held that the Republican Party in Utah had to allow candidates to be nominated by a signature/primary process under state law, not by the party's preferred option of a caucus/convention system:

10th Circuit Court rules against Utah Republican Party’s attempt to overturn signature-gathering election law

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The Utah Republican Party lost a big legal battle Tuesday in its attempt to overturn a 2014 Utah election law that allows candidates to qualify for the ballot through the caucus-convention system and/or by collecting signatures.

A panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the law, called SB54, in a 2-1 decision, saying “states must have flexibility to enact reasonable, common-sense regulations designed to provide order and legitimacy to the electoral process.”

Republicans had argued that the law interfered with the party’s constitutional right of association to select nominees as it chooses — and it preferred to use only the traditional caucus-convention system.
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Old 04-15-2020, 07:54 PM
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Without trying to distinguish the 10th circuit case cited above, I’ll just point out, generally, that there is a distinction between qualifying to appear on a state’s ballot as a candidate and appearing on that ballot as a nominee of any particular party. It’s my understanding that - generally speaking - a party can decide for itself how to select its nominee, under whatever rules it may decide. This is separate and apart from whatever obligation exists to appear on a ballot.

I always thought that appearing on a ballot requires obtaining a certain number of signatures by a certain date. Party nominations can be done through primaries, but they can also be done in smoke filled rooms.

(And why seek a party’s nomination when you can make it onto the ballot with no party affiliation? For one, you get the support of party loyalists who will reflexively vote for you. But you also get the infrastructure to help you get on the ballots of each state, which can be onerous. You also, in theory, get access to the party’s coffers, although I believe that the DNC and RNC are perpetually broke).
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Old 04-15-2020, 08:13 PM
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Originally Posted by enalzi View Post
I don't think they could bar him from the ballots, but I'm assuming they could easily reject any delegate votes for him. Basically say that any delegates votes for someone who has not been a registered democrat for so many years would not be counted.
Would that not take a change to their party constitution?
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Old 04-15-2020, 08:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
But this news item from an earlier thread on primaries indicates that the federal courts have upheld the power of the states to determine the process the parties can use to nominate their candidates.
The state party organization is affiliated with but it is not the national party. The decision was that the state party could not adopt a process to limit ballot access in a way not allowed by law. Those state parties even go so far as adopting state level platforms that can differ in some ways from the national party platform.

For Congress the election does not go outside the state. The national parties have informal and funding influence. They don't get to set the rules. State law does that with state parties exercising discretion allowed within the law.

For presidential elections things get different. The primary, caucus, or state convention merely selects delegates to the national party convention. The national party can and does strip delegates in cases of rules violations. The national party also assigns the number of delegates to states. It is not something as simple as the state population and the concept of equal representation. Some of the adjustments to delegate counts are based on recent partisan election results. They function as rough proxies for the share of the state that typically votes for the party. Then there are the scheduling bonus delegates to try and shape the schedule. The party cannot say when a primary happens but the national parties do create incentives and disincentives to influence the state.

Two examples closer to the OP intent, might illuminate things. In 2008 Michigan and Florida scheduled their primary elections earlier than either party allowed in their rules. Both states had their delegates stripped by both parties. In 2012, a convicted and imprisoned felon finished second in WV with 41% of the vote in the WV Democratic primary against Obama. The national party then stripped him of all his delegates for rules violations. Apparently it was hard to hire good campaign staffers to make sure he followed the rules at the prison commissary.
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Old 04-15-2020, 09:25 PM
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But could the Democratic Party have said, «We don’t allow felons on the ballot in Democratic primaries?», and prevented the issue of getting so far as stripping him of delegates?

That’s my question. Could the Democratic Party have kept Bernie off the ballot? If they can’t keep a felon off the ballot, how do they keep a Senator off the ballot?
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Old 04-15-2020, 09:33 PM
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50 states, 50 sets of rules. What I am familiar with are the laws of New York state. The party nominees can be challenged in a primary. The party can't stop them. The party can nominate their own candidate and anyone else can challenge them in a primary by getting a required number of signatures from party members on a petition. I believe many other states work that way. At their convention the Democrats can follow their own rules and nominate anyone they feel like, but once again, every state has their own election laws and allows anyone to run for president under their own party as do the states. You absolutely cannot keep qualified candidates off the ballot altogether.
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Old 04-16-2020, 03:47 AM
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It would have been a huge political problem for the party (unfortunately) to bar Bernie from their ballots, even after he signed a loyalty pledge and then blatantly defied it by registering with the FEC to run for reelection in Vermont as an independent.

But as a technical issue, if parties can't kick people off their ballots, they may as well have no power at all. Look at what happened to the Reform Party in 2000: Pat Buchanan got his followers to elevate him to the nomination, getting control of their federal matching funds and then suspiciously doing almost nothing with them, while his sister Bay ran Bush's campaign in Florida.

Imagine this dirty tricks scenario: Donald Trump sends Don Jr. to run in Democratic Party primaries, just as a troublemaker. He runs ads telling Republicans to answer pollsters' calls and claim to be a Democrat who supports Don, so he can make the debates--where, if they actually gave him a podium, he would just trash the Dems and talk up the greatness of his dad. Do you really think the DNC would have to just helplessly let him up on the debate stage, even give him delegates if he got the MAGA brigade to come out and vote for him? No way.
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Old 04-16-2020, 04:35 AM
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Access to the ballot in a state-run presidential primary is determined by state laws (which may or may not take the opinion of some party entity into account), but the effect of the vote in a presidential primary is determined by the party internally. If the party wanted to have eligibility rules, and not allocate delegates to any candidate who was deemed ineligible, it could (AFAIK) do exactly that. For an extreme example, sometimes a state has a law mandating a state-run presidential primary, but the state party doesn't actually want a state-run presidential primary, so the results are simply thrown in the garbage by the party and not used to determine anything at all; this type of primary is called a "beauty contest," because it assigns nothing except bragging rights.

Presidential primaries are very different from primaries for lower offices. In a regular primary election, depending on state law, there may indeed be no party organization that has any ability to disqualify a candidate; "the party" in these instances is the primary voters and nobody else. Sometimes a party gets saddled with a very bad candidate, who would have been disqualified if the party brass could have done anything, and they just have to suck it up.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 04-16-2020 at 04:39 AM.
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Old 04-16-2020, 07:14 AM
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This is an odd objection to what I said. Yes, there are separate organizations such as the North Carolina Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee. But it's proper to refer to them collectively as the Democratic Party. AFAIK, there is no actual registered organization called "The Democratic Party" (and definitely not one that is what we're talking about when we talk about The Democratic Party).

Had I said that the Democratic National Committee could've kept Sanders off the ballots, I might understand your objection. As it is, if I say I bit an apple, will you argue with me because it was my teeth that bit the apple?
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Old 04-16-2020, 07:36 AM
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On rereading, I think I misunderstood, my apologies. It's not that state parties can change the rules, you're saying; it's that state governments can change the rules.

I'm not really sure about the details of that. Surely there are some limits on this; otherwise a hostile state legislature (like North Carolina's) controlled by one party could impose absurd requirements on the other party. What's to stop them?
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Old 04-16-2020, 08:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SlackerInc View Post
But as a technical issue, if parties can't kick people off their ballots, they may as well have no power at all. Look at what happened to the Reform Party in 2000: Pat Buchanan got his followers to elevate him to the nomination, getting control of their federal matching funds and then suspiciously doing almost nothing with them, while his sister Bay ran Bush's campaign in Florida.
But that's what I'm asking - given that primaries are governed by state law, could the Dems have kicked Bernie off the ballot, even if he complied with all state laws that govern ballot access? If they can't, it does look like they've got no control over the primaries themselves.

Quote:
Imagine this dirty tricks scenario: Donald Trump sends Don Jr. to run in Democratic Party primaries, just as a troublemaker. He runs ads telling Republicans to answer pollsters' calls and claim to be a Democrat who supports Don, so he can make the debates--where, if they actually gave him a podium, he would just trash the Dems and talk up the greatness of his dad. Do you really think the DNC would have to just helplessly let him up on the debate stage, even give him delegates if he got the MAGA brigade to come out and vote for him? No way.
But that's not my question. I'm not asking if the party can set its own rules for its debates, delegates and conventions. I'm asking if they could say "Bernie is not really a Democrat, so he's not on the ballot."
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Old 04-16-2020, 08:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Left Hand of Dorkness View Post
On rereading, I think I misunderstood, my apologies. It's not that state parties can change the rules, you're saying; it's that state governments can change the rules.

I'm not really sure about the details of that. Surely there are some limits on this; otherwise a hostile state legislature (like North Carolina's) controlled by one party could impose absurd requirements on the other party. What's to stop them?
That's my question, and I'm not criticising your comment - as a non-American, I find the intricacies of your system hard to follow, and I'm curious whether, as you seemed to suggest, the Democrats could have kept Bernie off the ballot. If that's not what you were suggesting, my apologies. Still an interesting issue.
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Old 04-16-2020, 09:01 AM
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Access to the ballot in a state-run presidential primary is determined by state laws (which may or may not take the opinion of some party entity into account), but the effect of the vote in a presidential primary is determined by the party internally. If the party wanted to have eligibility rules, and not allocate delegates to any candidate who was deemed ineligible, it could (AFAIK) do exactly that. For an extreme example, sometimes a state has a law mandating a state-run presidential primary, but the state party doesn't actually want a state-run presidential primary, so the results are simply thrown in the garbage by the party and not used to determine anything at all; this type of primary is called a "beauty contest," because it assigns nothing except bragging rights.
But wouldn't that depend on the state law? the Circuit Court decision from Utah suggests, if I've understood it correctly, that the Utah parties cannot ignore the results of the primary, and that the winner of the primary gets on the ballot?

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Presidential primaries are very different from primaries for lower offices. In a regular primary election, depending on state law, there may indeed be no party organization that has any ability to disqualify a candidate; "the party" in these instances is the primary voters and nobody else. Sometimes a party gets saddled with a very bad candidate, who would have been disqualified if the party brass could have done anything, and they just have to suck it up.
[Spock voice, observing alien civilisation] "Fascinating" [/Spock]
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Old 04-16-2020, 09:12 AM
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But wouldn't that depend on the state law? the Circuit Court decision from Utah suggests, if I've understood it correctly, that the Utah parties cannot ignore the results of the primary, and that the winner of the primary gets on the ballot?
The party can't keep a candidate off the primary ballot if the candidate qualifies under state law. The result of the primary has no standing with the national party when it comes to naming their candidate for the general election. They can ignore the results of the primaries if their own rules allow it.

I don't know what you mean by "and that the winner of the primary gets on the ballot?". The winner of a state primary gets delegates to the convention. The candidate with the most delegates gets the nomination according to the current rules, but those rules could be changed. You can win a primary, winning all of the primaries has no meaning outside of the party rules.
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Old 04-16-2020, 09:18 AM
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I suppose what people are saying is that the DNC could have decided that even if Bernie were on the ballot, they would announce in advance that votes for him would be disregarded. But I’m actually skeptical that even that much is true. I believe they could have kept them off the ballot altogether if they so chose, but I am admittedly not an election attorney.

What I would ask is: why then are there not hundreds of names on that ballot? Who decides, if not the party, who is a legitimate candidate?
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Old 04-16-2020, 09:21 AM
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I don't know why it is this way exactly, but my guess is the scarcity of national election laws leaves the national parties to do whatever they want. In the end they can't keep a candidate off the ballot, only keep them from using the party name. The states are where the primary action is, and without a decent set of regulations they and/or the parties would be awash in lawsuits during every election. In addition, without state sanction the major parties lose official status and their undue influence on the electoral process.
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Old 04-16-2020, 09:23 AM
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What I would ask is: why then are there not hundreds of names on that ballot? Who decides, if not the party, who is a legitimate candidate?
There can be hundreds of names on a ballot, the state decides that. Anyone can run for office in any state in a general election. The primaries are only about who gets to represent a particular party on the ballot.

ETA: And if a party tries to keep a candidate off the ballot as their representative in some fishy manner they will get sued, one state at a time, and each state could decide to over-rule them. The parties cannot constrain the states.

Last edited by TriPolar; 04-16-2020 at 09:26 AM.
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Old 04-16-2020, 09:29 AM
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From the perspective of Dems who don't like Bernie, this was almost a best-reasonable-case scenario -- Bernie was beaten soundly by a "mainstream" Democrat, without any sort of "shenanigans" like giving debate questions in advance. Barring Bernie from the primary would have done a lot more damage to the party's future, IMO. I wish Bernie had won, but he didn't, and this is probably the best way for him to have lost, in the long run.
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Old 04-16-2020, 09:34 AM
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Perhaps some confusion comes from people forgetting that we have no national elections. What we call the presidential election is actually the process of electing electors for the Electoral College, and it is conducted one state at a time, under individual state laws. The party national conventions are a nice show but they don't control how the states run their elections.

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Old 04-16-2020, 10:10 AM
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It occurs to me that there's a failsafe measure in place, and the best one: the voters. If enough people who register as Democrats decide that they want to vote for Sanders as the Democratic nominee, then by definition he's the Democratic nominee. And that's as it should be.

Of course you could have "tricks," where people who don't consider themselves Democrats ask for a Democratic ballot and vote for Sanders. I'd counter that that's not a trick: instead, the Democratic party is defined by the collective votes of the people who call themselves, for whatever reason, a Democrat.

If the party doesn't like that, then they need to disentangle themselves from the state, stop asking for such privileges as tax-payer-funded primary ballots, and become a private club.
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Old 04-16-2020, 10:20 AM
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It occurs to me that there's a failsafe measure in place, and the best one: the voters. If enough people who register as Democrats decide that they want to vote for Sanders as the Democratic nominee, then by definition he's the Democratic nominee. And that's as it should be.
But this is demonstrably not true. If the party wanted to have 10x the number of superdelegates, who aren't picked by the general public voters, decide the nominee there's not much the states or the primaries voters can do. The primary selected delegates only have the power they do because the DNC decided that's the way they want to operate.
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Old 04-16-2020, 12:32 PM
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The failsafe measure is the general election. If people don't like the way the national party has nominated the candidate then they don't vote for her and after an embarrassing loss the leadership is purged and the rules are changed.
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Old 04-16-2020, 02:16 PM
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Party primary rules are determined by the party, even if the states and localities then administer the elections.
Not necessarily. Depending on the state rules, a candidate may associate themselves with a party even if not a member of that party.
Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party
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Old 04-16-2020, 03:00 PM
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Not necessarily. Depending on the state rules, a candidate may associate themselves with a party even if not a member of that party.
Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party
(Someone should check that page, it says in the summary that the ruling was against the parties, and in the detail text that it was in favor though it proceeds to describe a ruling against the parties).

And there's another thing about that: In the USA, a party's voters mostly are not "dues-paying, card-carrying members"--excluding membership in affiliate organizations like the College Republicans or Young Democrats--at the level of individuals, just people who say they are a Republican or Democrat or support the respective platform, at most who are registered with the Elections Board as one or the other for the purpose of voting in the closed primary.
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Old 04-16-2020, 03:12 PM
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And there's another thing about that: In the USA, a party's voters mostly are not "dues-paying, card-carrying members"--excluding membership in affiliate organizations like the College Republicans or Young Democrats--at the level of individuals, just people who say they are a Republican or Democrat or support the respective platform, at most who are registered with the Elections Board as one or the other for the purpose of voting in the closed primary.
I keep seeing comments that suggest the US is unique in this regard. How are political parties in democracies organized elsewhere?

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Old 04-16-2020, 03:28 PM
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(Someone should check that page, it says in the summary that the ruling was against the parties, and in the detail text that it was in favor though it proceeds to describe a ruling against the parties).

And there's another thing about that: In the USA, a party's voters mostly are not "dues-paying, card-carrying members"--excluding membership in affiliate organizations like the College Republicans or Young Democrats--at the level of individuals, just people who say they are a Republican or Democrat or support the respective platform, at most who are registered with the Elections Board as one or the other for the purpose of voting in the closed primary.
For point 1: I don't see that. It says it favored the blanket-primary that allowed the candidate to declare their preferred party.

For point 2: Under the Washington election rules, you declare yourself to be a Libertarian. The Libertarian Party of Washington says you cannot run as a Libertarian because
  • You are not a registered Libertarian
  • You did not jump through their hoops to their endorsement
  • Your politics are so different from their that Libertarian Party does not want to be associated with you [this is the major issue involved. Don't political parties have a right of association too?]
The ruling says too bad for them. You can call yourself a Libertarian because
  • The Libertarian Party is not compelled to nominate you [non-partisan blanket primaries have candidate run against each other without party nominations]
  • The Libertarian Party is not compelled to be associated with you if it doesn't want to.

Last edited by Saint Cad; 04-16-2020 at 03:30 PM.
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Old 04-16-2020, 04:22 PM
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I keep seeing comments that suggest the US is unique in this regard. How are political parties in democracies organized elsewhere?
In Canada, we don’t have mass primaries to nominate a party candidate for the general election. Instead, the party has an organisation in each constituency (called «ridings» informally). That local party organisation nominates the candidate for their riding. That local riding association is composed of people who have applied for a party membership and paid the fee to belong. The nomination is done by the members of the local riding association, not by the public at large. The riding association has to comply with some filing requirements with the Chief Electoral Officer, but the rules for the nomination process are left entirely to the party. The government has no input into the process.
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Old 04-17-2020, 02:25 AM
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538 had a whole podcast series about this. In some countries, for example Denmark (which, ironically, Bernie loves to tout as a good government), a single party leader picks all nominees for every contest. The equivalent here would be if Tom Perez personally chose every nominee for every race for governor, House, or Senate (not sure if it would extend even to lower offices). Obviously Denmark is a smaller country so this is less unwieldy, but it certainly does not involve the democratic process many people here seem to think is so crucial. Personally, I'd prefer a system like that in Denmark. Or to go back to the "smoke-filled rooms" (preferably without the smoke). Parties have given up way too much power.


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There can be hundreds of names on a ballot, the state decides that. Anyone can run for office in any state in a general election. The primaries are only about who gets to represent a particular party on the ballot.

I thought it was clear I meant, why are there not hundreds of names on a primary ballot? I'm aware of the rules about getting on general election ballots. But in New Hampshire or South Carolina in particular, when presidential years come around, I think there would be a huge number of people who would want to be on those primary ballots if all they had to do was pay a few hundred or even a few thousand for a filing fee.


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Originally Posted by Left Hand of Dorkness View Post
Of course you could have "tricks," where people who don't consider themselves Democrats ask for a Democratic ballot and vote for Sanders. I'd counter that that's not a trick: instead, the Democratic party is defined by the collective votes of the people who call themselves, for whatever reason, a Democrat.

Even if it were completely disingenuous, like the thought experiment I provided of Don Jr. running as a "Democrat"? If you think this is too absurd, that they wouldn't go that far, you're not paying attention. They will do anything they can just barely technically get away with.
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  #32  
Old 04-17-2020, 04:10 AM
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Originally Posted by SlackerInc View Post
I thought it was clear I meant, why are there not hundreds of names on a primary ballot? I'm aware of the rules about getting on general election ballots. But in New Hampshire or South Carolina in particular, when presidential years come around, I think there would be a huge number of people who would want to be on those primary ballots if all they had to do was pay a few hundred or even a few thousand for a filing fee.
Usually petitions are required, signed by party members, across the jurisdiction, and party members can only sign one petition for an office. Having worked on collecting such signatures I can tell you it is not easy. So it's more than simply paying a filing fee. Even if it was just a filing fee the ballots aren't going to get crowded, it's not worth the effort to end up with just your family and you voting for you. In many locations there are perennial contenders, especially in the lower state and local offices where the requirements may be easy to meet. It just doesn't amount to hundreds of people.

Last edited by TriPolar; 04-17-2020 at 04:11 AM.
  #33  
Old 04-17-2020, 05:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
But wouldn't that depend on the state law? the Circuit Court decision from Utah suggests, if I've understood it correctly, that the Utah parties cannot ignore the results of the primary, and that the winner of the primary gets on the ballot?
Presidential primaries don't determine who gets on the ballot, they determine what happens at a political party's privately-organized convention. And they only determine that to the extent that the party says they do.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 04-17-2020 at 05:45 AM.
  #34  
Old 04-17-2020, 05:59 AM
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Originally Posted by SlackerInc View Post
I thought it was clear I meant, why are there not hundreds of names on a primary ballot? I'm aware of the rules about getting on general election ballots. But in New Hampshire or South Carolina in particular, when presidential years come around, I think there would be a huge number of people who would want to be on those primary ballots if all they had to do was pay a few hundred or even a few thousand for a filing fee.
There were a lot of people on the New Hampshire ballot, just not hundreds. They let pretty much anyone file for $1000, no petition requirement AFAIK, and there were 33 Democrats and 17 Republicans on the ballot this year.

In South Carolina, the parties are allowed to act as gatekeepers. Stephen Colbert ran into this when he tried to put his joke candidacy on the ballot.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 04-17-2020 at 06:00 AM.
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