“Nothing flatters vanity, nor confirms obstinacy in Kings more than repeated petitioning, and nothing has contributed more than that to make the King absolute.” — Thomas Paine
It is high time we modernize election law in Minnesota. Statute 200.20.subd.7 states that a minor political party must achieve 5 percent of the statewide vote in the most recent election cycle to achieve major-party status. Opportunities to do so are few, being only the contests for president, U.S. Senate, governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor.
It is un-American to stifle political voices and limit voters’ choices, yet that’s what our system encourages. Minnesota law sustains exclusivity, supporting only those already in power, the Republicans and Democrats. It is designed to handicap all others. At the track this is known as “not letting the horse out of the gate.”
Minor-party members who want to run for office can’t even get on the ballot without petitioning and collecting hundreds, in some races thousands, of signatures. But major parties get automatic ballot access to all races. Major parties can monitor elections with their judges. Major-party candidates get massive subsidies with public funds.
Three reforms are needed:
1) The 5 percent vote percentage threshold to become a major party in Minnesota is unnecessarily prohibitive and should be reduced. It is currently double (or more) that of all neighboring states. In South Dakota, the threshold is 2.5 percent; in North Dakota and Iowa, it’s 2 percent; in Wisconsin, it’s 1 percent.
In 2014, the Libertarian Party of Minnesota (LPMN) achieved 2.1 percent of the vote. In 2016, it drew 3.9 percent. But it’s not just Libertarians being kept off your ballots. The Independence Party of former Gov. Jesse Ventura got 4.9 percent of the vote in 2014 and thus was demoted to minor status. It will not be a listed option in most races.
2) Time frames to petition for ballot access should be expanded. They are unnecessarily short and intrude upon Minnesotans’ family time. Petitioning is allowed only for a two-week span centered over Memorial Day. Sorry to walk up to you on the beach on May 28, but we must. We have the shortest petitioning windows in the nation (most states give 90 days).
In 2018, the Libertarian Party approved eight nominees to be candidates for state offices. While volunteers collected over 6,000 signatures in the appropriate districts on the appropriate forms on the appropriate days, we needed 7,000 signatures in those 14 days to get all eight on the ballot. Therefore, we only could put six candidates on various ballots for you.
3) Public funding should be available to all registered parties — or to none. Whether the Minnesota political subsidy program is good or bad is not the question here, but rather whether those in power should grant it only to themselves. It entrenches the establishment and prevents change.
More than 85 percent of Republicans and Democrats take the public subsidies. More than 90 percent of incumbents win. The approval rate of Congress is 10 percent.
It’s not that minor parties lack good candidates and important new ideas to put out there, but the current structure drowns them out by design. A “red” or “blue” Minnesota state House candidate gets an average public subsidy of $5,000, while for gubernatorial candidates, it’s over $400,000. Minor-party candidates get nothing.
We call for change. We ask the state of Minnesota to create a more inclusive political environment, welcoming alternative participation by easing the regulations on doing so. We ask the next Legislature to reduce the major-party threshold to a rate comparable to peer states — from 5 percent to 2.5 percent. We ask that petitioning time be doubled to a minimum of 30 days for all races. We ask for equal public subsidy access for any minor political party that exceeds 1 percent in a previous statewide election. The time has come to level the playing field.
Chris Holbrook is chair of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota.