Students discuss, debate fate of state’s third paries

Nathan Hall

Political pundits attributed Minnesota’s third parties’ resounding defeats in the 2002 election to their inability to compete in the United States’ two-party system.

But 20 University students disagreed and discussed the merits and fate of third-party politics in future state elections Thursday night at Blegen Hall.

The social was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts’ student board and mediated by Lisa Disch, a University political science professor and author of “The Tyranny of the Two-Party System,” published this year by Columbia University Press.

Disch said the national election system creates several legal roadblocks that nearly guarantee the exclusion of minor-party campaigns. However, she gives Minnesota high marks overall for providing and supporting alternative political choices in comparison to other states.

One issue Disch disputes is ballot access.

“We reformed the ballot system in the 1890s to the Australian model where the secretary of state writes the ballots, as opposed to before, where the parties paid for the ballots and then paid you to vote,” Disch said. “However, Republicans and Democrats wrote provisions into the legislation that the secretary would automatically write in their parties but third parties were stuck getting signatures on their own in order to qualify for the ballot.”

Disch said she sees campaign finances as another hurdle for independent voices.

“We protect the established runners by publicly financing their primaries and general elections,” Disch said. “Poorer third parties have to run against moneyed interests but still have to get 5 percent, and even then they don’t get the money until the race is over.”

Disch said Minnesota’s same-day registration is a vital tool for fighting establishment parties.

“Third parties struggle with maintaining momentum since they don’t have enough cash for a lot of TV ads,” Disch said. “However, people like (Gov. Jesse Ventura) were able to work with disenfranchised folks right up until election night, whereas in other states, you’re shut out if they close polls 20 days before election night.”

“Last minute momentum really did help Ventura, but in the long run the two parties persist because they have vested social connections in every single neighborhood in Minnesota,” one University student said. “You have to get a broad base of support underneath you in order to survive, so I think the (Green Party) and others like them should focus on grassroots.”

Disch maintains that “soft money” contributions are primarily to blame for the corruption of the U.S. political system.

“It’s almost impossible to control that special interest cash,” Disch said. “Some nonprofits are exploiting loopholes to spew out propaganda – all of which financed by our federal taxes.”

“Those groups are allowed to educate voters but not endorse candidates,” another University student said. “It’s one thing to have a voter guide for your members but some of those last minute phone calls crossed the line.”

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