The American election process does not make it easy for independent and third-party candidates. And every state has different rules, so even figuring out a pathway to power is difficult and unlikely.
Then there is Alaska.
Four years ago Bill Walker, running as an independent for governor, convinced Byron Mallott, then the Democratic nominee for governor, to step off the Democratic ticket and join Walker’s independent bid. The Democrats agreed to this plan and did not run their own party nominee. The result was Walker and Mallott won. And now Mallott, Tlingit, is the Lt. Governor.
This time around there is a different process, Walker will be running as an independent in the Democratic primary in August (and Mallott can continue to run as a Democrat.) It also means the November election will feature two main candidates for governor instead of three.
This happened because the Democratic party changed its rules to allow unaffiliated and nonpartisan candidates to run in its primary. According to the Daily News-Miner, Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg said parties have the right to associate associate themselves with the candidates of their choice, regardless of their party registration.
“All we’re saying here is that if you’re a registered Democrat or if you’re one of these 56 percent of the state, which is not a member of an organized political party, and you want to run and seek our nomination, you should have that opportunity,” Alaska Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Parmley told the Daily News-Miner.
As most of the country grows more partisan, Alaska voters and politicians alike have redrawn red and blue lines in more practical terms. Of course there is Walker and Mallott’s bid for the governor’s office four years ago on what they called the Alaska First Unity Ticket. And two years later the state House shifted to a coalition of Democrats and a few Republicans working together as a majority with Bryce Edgmon, Yup’ik, as the Speaker of the House. Even in the Alaska Senate, where Republicans are in charge , state Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Democrat from Bethel, caucuses with the majority.
This reflects Alaska. There are more than 200,000 undeclared registered voters, nearly 85,000 nonpartisan voters, 140,000 Republicans and some 75,000 Democrats.
One difference in the U.S. election system with other countries around the world is that candidates can take office without a majority of the votes. President Donald J. Trump is stark example of that. He only received 46.1 percent of the vote, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2 percent. In most countries that would have resulted in a runoff election — a second ballot — to ensure that a majority of voters, fifty percent plus one, were in agreement.
There are a number of independent and third party #NativeVote18 candidates on ballots this election season. And the rules governing their challenges are different in every state. If Alaska makes an independent bid possible, other states election methods make a third-party bid nearly impossible.
California, for example, is one of three states with an open primary so that only the top two candidates are on the November ballot. This gets to the idea that a majority of voters (more than fifty percent) will pick a candidate instead of a minority. But it also limits the discourse about third party candidates because they are usually eliminated early in the process. California’s primary is June 5. The other twist in a top-two primary is that in some districts the top two candidates will both be Democrats or Republicans.
Erik Rydberg, Pomo, is running for Secretary of State on the Green Party ticket. “As an indigenous person whose family has been living on the Sonoma coastline of California for over 10,000 years I have a deep respect for tradition,” he writes on a fundraising site. “One of the oldest traditions of this continent is Democracy. The oldest still functioning democracy in the world belongs to the Iroquois Confederacy. I intend to honor this decision making process and to honor where it came from as California’s Secretary of State. Democracy is the backbone of any just and free society and must be protected from those who would attempt to dishonor and manipulate it. Every vote must be counted, every time.”
Rydberg has said he prefers a ranked choice voting system.
Ranked choice, or an instant runoff, is a system that solves both the problem of third party representation and reaching an electoral majority. It does this by asking voters to pick their second and third choices (in case their favorite is eliminated). Maine voters in the last election approved switching to this system, but the Republican Party and its elected leaders have blocked implementation (and are suing to have the voters’ will overturned).
There is an interesting history here. In 1906 Montana voters, essentially, had this same opportunity with two at-large seats in Congress. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, “She even made a point, in her campaigning, to acknowledge that voters could cast a vote for their favorite man and just put her for number two,” wrote Lily Rothman in Time. “Throughout her life, Lopach says, she championed multiple-member congressional districts as a way to open the House to candidates who might have a hard time coming in first.”
Indeed either ranked choice voting or a multi-member district could benefit Indian Country’s voters, too. Because candidate could campaign on the idea of running as a second, or even third, choice.
“I firmly think that it is necessary to loosen the grip of the perceived two party system in order allow our citizens access to equitable choices in representation,” Aaron Camancho,Band Potawatomi, writes in her campaign documents. “Doing so requires our votes go toward candidates who will stand for the People. Often candidates must overcome socioeconomic disadvantages, often succumbing to cooperate influence through gifts and monetary donations. We need to address issues with money in politics that stifle our citizen’s calls for informed decisions in reaching sustainable outcomes and beyond. We need to take the Power of the People back and place it in the hands of the ordinary citizen.”
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on TwitterFollow