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November 2, 2004

Oh, yeah. I kept meaning to say something like this, but work and travel got in the way. To my surprise, it’s Mark Schmitt, a blogger who’s also an experienced Democratic policy guy, who puts it best:
Finally, a less-predictable endorsement, for all of you in New York: Please vote for your candidates on the Working Families Party line, Row E. You don’t live in a battleground state, and your votes for Kerry and Schumer may not have much immediate impact on the outcome of those races. But you can make a difference by supporting the idea of an independent political organization that is aligned with the Democratic Party when its values are right, and not when they aren’t. For example, Working Families enabled an alternative to the Democratic nominee in the special election for City Council in Brooklyn last spring, who ultimately won, and Working Families offers alternatives to the corrupt system of judicial selection in Brooklyn. Further, when the labor and community activists of the Working Families Party can approach, for example, Senator Clinton and point out that the number of votes she received on their line was greater than her margin of victory, that’s a message that no ordinary constituency group can deliver. WFP is only five years old, and it’s still in many ways an experiment. If it works, perhaps we’ll see interest in other states in opening up to “fusion” parties—those that can endorse Democrats or Republicans sometimes, or their own candidates if they need to. This is a reform that will dramatically open up the electoral system and also create strong, modern organizations of the type that are winning this election for Kerry. Voting on the Working Families line sends a message to the New York political system, and also beyond.
My general view of American third parties is that they’re a gigantic distraction from effective politics, because the two-party system is an emergent property of the United States Constitution. With its unusual election rules allowing cross-endorsement, however, New York State is a bit different; a small party can indeed wield real influence, and in its short history the WFP has done so very cannily. Among their aims: repealing the catastrophically draconian Rockefeller drug laws. Their web site is at http://www.workingfamiliesparty.org, and I intend to vote for them on Row E in about forty-five minutes. [07:51 AM]
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Comments on Oh, yeah.:

Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 08:10 AM:

I've been voting WFP as long as they've been around -- they're definitely where my politics come to roost.

Bill Shunn ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 09:01 AM:

Damn, I wish I'd read this before I voted.

Mike Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 09:43 AM:

I'm glad I was already thinking this way. It's a good idea.

BTW, I voted at about 8am in Halfmoon, just north of Albany. I was voter #132. In most elections, voting about the same time, I've been more like #20-25.

Arwen ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 10:00 AM:

Aw, crap. What Bill Shunn said. I got to my polling place when it opened. Noted for next time, though. Thanks.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 10:18 AM:

I did read it before going to the polls. Thanks Patrick. I voted the straight Democratic ticket on the WF line except for in one local race where the Democrat for whom I intened to vote wasn't on the WF line.

Another good thing about NY state's fusion voting system is that there is a Right to Life party. The presence of the RTF endorsements on the ballot allows one to vote against RTL-endorsed candidates (the only circumstances under which I've voted for Republicans).

Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 10:19 AM:

I was #116 at about 9am in Niskayuna (*waves to Mike Jones*). I've never voted before in a presidential election in NY, though, so I don't know if that's good. The workers did say it was a little busier.

PNH, I didn't know about this, but next time I will read up on the WFP and consider voting on their line.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 10:27 AM:

Oh, and David and I were #s 40 and 41 at 9AM. We slipped right in without a line, though once we were done voting there were about 20 people behind us. We had good timing I guess.

old grizzly ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 10:51 AM:

The Working Families Party made a huge difference in the recent primary for county offices in Albany, NY. The ol' boy Democratic political machine has been getting its way for generations, but this time some progressive newcomers broke through, largely because WF got out the vote in the neighborhoods.
The primary results rocked the Albany machine- they are seriously freaked out.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 11:18 AM:

I was #116 at about 9am in Niskayuna (*waves to Mike Jones*). I've never voted before in a presidential election in NY, though, so I don't know if that's good. The workers did say it was a little busier.

It slowed down. Close to an hour later, I was #159.

The hardest part of the process was finding a place to park.

Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 11:28 AM:

I got an email from WFP a week or so ago, but was already planning to vote their line. I'm so glad they have moved up to Row E (the death of the Liberal Party helped).

Like Kathryn, I use the RTL listing to help me avoid candidates.

I was #155 at about 9 AM; had to wait about 8 people's worth of time, and there were about that many behind me by the time I got to the booth. Lots of people had brought their kids and were taking them into the booths.

My 8-yo is tall enough to reach the very top levers now, so she is technically the one who voted. She's met some of our local pols, so was excited to flip those levers. She will probably vote twice today, as my mother will take her to the polls again. Mom and I vote at different polling places; though we live only 4 blocks apart, we are in different precincts.

In other election news, my daughter was elected president of her third-grade class yesterday, which was a big deal for us as this is a new school and she's known these kids only since mid-September.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 11:46 AM:

Kathryn & Melissa - When I lived in NYS, I used the RTL line the exact same way. I moved to CA before the WFP appeared, so I often voted Liberal to vote for Democrats.

The cross-endorsement is one of the few features of New York governance that other states would do well to emulate.

My mom took me to work with her until she started working as a poll worker. She worked for a bank, so she always had Election Day off. Manning the polls brought a few extra well-needed dollars into the house.

I went for a short walk this AM and passed my polling place (I voted absentee) and there was a healthy line in my super-heavily Dem district in super-heavily Dem NorCal.

If people are showing up in droves here, where the hottest issues are maintaining a local sales tax and the Hospital Board (whatever the heck that is), it's a good sign.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 11:55 AM:

We always vote Working Families.

It amazes me that more national third party advocates haven't picked up on an amazingly successful model.

Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 12:09 PM:

Melissa Singer: congratulations to your daughter!

(But I have to ask, what does a third-grade president *do*? I don't think we had class officers until high school, and really if students knew that running for president and winning would get them stuck organizing class reunions for perpetuity . . . well.)

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 12:42 PM:

{envy} We don't have that option in places like West Virginia. There were two "third-party" candidates for Pres. (Nader and Bednarik) and one for governor, but the main races were D vs. R, and I'm not even sure the Rs found people to run in some of the lesser county offices. (I have to admit I didn't really look at their column much.)

Jason ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 01:14 PM:

Does NY have a ballot on-line anywhere that one could look at? I've never voted more than a New Jersey absentee, and those ballots are a little bit... sparse. I'd like to see the miracle of the abundant NY ballot...

Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 02:15 PM:

Larry: I stopped voting Liberal, even to elect Democrats, when it became clear just how corrupt and worthless the NYC Liberal Party was. WFP is so much better!

Julia: Many places--just about everywhere outside of NY--do not allow candidates to be listed on more than one party line. You're stuck with your official party. Some friends report that their communities, which used to allow cross-listing, no longer do so.

Kate: The class president and vice president help the teacher in various ways. They are responsible for: turning the computers on and off at the beginning and end of the day, handing out announcements and making announcements (not all announcements, obviously), keeping order in the classroom when the teacher is out of the room, etc. Most interestingly, class officers are expected to mediate disputes between classmates and make sure they're all treating each other fairly--which led to my daughter interrupting a lunchtime food exchange where one student was trading away his entire pizza to a couple of other kids in return for a few bits of chocolate. While I don't particularly want my kid to be the food police, I was glad she did this; the child who was being victimized has some sort of apparently mild developmental disability. It's likely that dd would have stepped in in any case, as she likes this boy, but I'm sure that having the additional authority of being class president helped her feel confident about acting.

Jason: I doubt there is a NY ballot online, probably because there are so many NY ballots--gazillions of individual ballots for individual precincts. IIRC, this morning I saw columns for Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Independence, Working Families, and RTL candidates. Many candidates, especially candidates for judgeships, were listed in more than 1 column.

Diana ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 02:24 PM:

what Bill said -- I already voted.

Now I know, but couldn't you have put this up a day before? some of us vote on the way to work .....

Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 03:22 PM:

Jason: my county's ballots are online in pdf format (index page).

Melissa: that's very interesting. I wonder how old they get before that is no longer feasible.

Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 04:23 PM:

I don't know how third grade class presidents work, but my daughter's infants' school, which she left in the summer (she's 7 now) had a School Council with representatives from each of the year 1 and year 2 classes (I think they decided that the 5 year olds were just too tiny). They decided that the playground needed more seating and launched a plan of action to get it, and they set up a system so that kids who were feeling lonely could get linked up with a buddy at playtime.

Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 04:39 PM:

My daughter's current school does not have a student council like the one Alison describes, though her old school did (however, you had to be in grades 3-5 to participate, even though the school was Pre-K-5th).

At the current place, the 6th grade seems to do a lot of the work a student council would, as part of the school's overall "service" program. The 6th graders also form the Penny Harvest council, deciding how to donate the money the school collects, and they run the annual coat drive. Not sure what the lower grades do, as we have only been there since September and I'm still learning the school's culture.

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 07:11 PM:

Hi all,

Forgive the ignorance, but could someone explain to a hapless Brit why a two party system is a result of the Constitution? Probably a result of not knowing it well enough (and a few pints of beer), but I don't see the connection...

Good luck to you all, anyway. Hopefully after this, foreigners such as myself might possibly feel safe to visit American friends. ;-) (I'll reserve real judgement for a few months afterwards!)

Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 07:31 PM:

I took your advice before I even read it. Working Families for Prez, Senate and House, D for everything else.

I was #101 at shortly after 9. I haven't voted at the venue before, so I have no basis for comparing to other years. My mother reported that they opened the auditorium up at her polling place, when the anteroom to the auditorium usually suffices. I think people actually give a damn.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 07:47 PM:

Paul, the US system encourages a two party system because of the Electoral College. Any time a viable third party has arisen, it has either collapsed or replaced an existing party. For more info, check out this Wikipedia article or some other results via Google search.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 07:59 PM:

I think the Electoral College is only part of the reason; having an independent executive means that the top boss is selected by a direct election instead of being the leader of the plurality party. (This is a simplification; I recognize that there are some countries with hybrid systems but don't feel competent to discuss them.) Israel is an obvious (extreme?) example of the way small, focused parties can matter in a parliamentary democracy; from what I recall of European countries, the UK stands farther toward the opposite extreme than any other.

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 08:02 PM:

Thanks both; I'll take a read of those articles tomorrow. (Well, got to do *something* at work...)

pericat ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2004, 10:00 PM:

The electoral college is the grand-daddy of 'first past the post' systems. As far as I know, in all fifty states, the electors are bound to vote for the candidate that carries their state. Technically, they can vote their consciences; in practice, because of how they are chosen (by the winning party), they vote as one would expect, to the point where the vote itself is pro forma. Further, they have but one round of voting; if they do not have a clear majority for any candidate, the election shifts to the House, which is itself saturated with persons who, on the whole, owe their entire careers to one of two major parties.

Early American attempts to field viable third parties served primarily to change the platforms of whichever two parties were the major players at the time. That's how the federal system works; it can't, for love or money, work any other way. If you look at as a games setup, and try out different situations, you would see that the two most powerful parties will in every case absorb all popular third-party initiatives at the federal level. Just look at the experience of the socialist/communist movements of the early 20th century: permanent political parties were formed all over the world, except in the US. There, they were demonized, while at the same time, less threatening versions of their ideas were eventually absorbed into the established party platforms, even as more radical implementations in Latin America were actively attacked.

This did not, IMO, occur because the current political bosses honestly thought socialism was evil, but because there's no room at the top for more than two big dogs. A third dog, no matter how nice, cannot be other than an absolute rival. The American federal system does not allow for more than two parties.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2004, 03:47 AM:

Not quite all fifty states: Maine and Nebraska allocate their electors proportionately to their votes, with two extra going to the one who was ahead. Colorado is considering going to this system (and if memory serves me right, voting on that question in this very election).

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2004, 04:10 PM:

Not quite all fifty states: Seems to me, - and fact checking is left as an exercise Google is your friend, I may be quite mistaken - that a current proportional system derives from the historical Electoral College system - a system of 1 vote per representative and 1 per senator in the College. The proportional system allocates the 1 vote per representative to the national candidate who carries the given congressional district and similarly the 1 vote per senator to the national candidate who carries the senatorial district (which district is the state).

Interesting implications for places like Texas today and other places at other times.

Then too last time I checked the political parties formed in the United States lasted to this date - and folks could still join the Wobblies.

Quite true that there is a disincentive to be the sort of independent party leader in a coalition that we see in say Israel - but there might be, despite first past the post for head of state (which is fairly common actually -see e.g. Double Star obs SF) with different congressional rules - have to strain though (story alert!).

Colorado, we now know rejected change.