The Federal Election Commission recently released the official results from the 2012 Presidential Election (PDF). Just this information alone can teach us a lot about the political climate around the country. It also provides us with a few things that we can use to help in our efforts to bring ballot access reform to Oklahoma.
To start off, this report solidifies one fact that we have oft repeated here. Oklahoma is the only state to have limited its voters to two choices for President. This is the third Presidential election in a row that this has happened. The next fewest candidates on any ballot in the US was four candidates. Three states had that low ball, Hawaii, Missouri and South Dakota. That’s right, the next lowest number of candidates on a ballot doubled what was on the Oklahoma ballot.
Here are a few statistics from this report. The median number of candidates on any state ballot counting and not counting Oklahoma is eight. If you look at this on average, the average number of candidates on the ballot, including Oklahoma’s, is 7.92. Without counting Oklahoma, the average number of candidates on the ballot is eight. This means that Oklahoma has limited the number of candidates to a quarter that of the average in the US. The average voter outside of Oklahoma gets six more candidates than we do. That is rather depressing.
But what about some of the arguments against opening up the ballots to other parties. Surely with all this choice in the other states, these arguments have merit? Well let’s look at one such argument, voter confusion. See, one argument is that voters will be confused about who to vote for if they are presented with too many options. That must be a problem in some of these other states. Sadly, those raising that argument are blowing smoke.
Let’s look at the top state for the number of candidates, Colorado. Colorado voters were presented with a ballot containing the names of seventeen candidates. That is nearly nine times the number of candidates in Oklahoma. Were voters in Colorado overwhelmed and confused? Hardly. The vast majority of voters in Colorado had not problems finding the two duopoly candidates on the ballot and were able to create a clear winner in the race.
The same can be seen throughout the report. In all states, the majority of voters were able to find and vote for the duopoly candidate of their choice. In fact, there is no state that shows anything irregular in how votes were dispersed.
The Spoiler Effect
The next biggest argument against opening up the ballot is that alternative parties will create a “spoiler effect” among the duopoly. What this means in real terms is that duopoly supporters are afraid that people won’t want to vote for their candidate of choice and so feel the need to artificially restrict your choice. Putting aside the fallacy of this argument, let’s see if this actually has any merit.
First, let’s look back at Colorado. Surely with seventeen candidates, there had to be some spoiler. Nope. None at all. If you add up all the alternative candidates’ votes, you will get 61,176 votes cast. Now if you look at the difference between the winner in Colorado, Obama, and the runner-up, Romney, you will find a difference of 137,858 votes. In other words, more than double the votes cast for alternative candidates. Even if all those alternative voters voted for Romney, he still would have lost in Colorado.
Perhaps you are thinking, “What about something a little more close to home, such as those three states with four candidates? With a more compact ballot, wouldn’t the spoiler effect be more apparent?” Nope. The votes cast for the two alternative candidates in those three states were mere fractions of the difference between the duopoly winner and runner-up.
The only state in the entire US where a “spoiler effect” could possibly even be argued is that of Florida. In Florida, the total votes cast for alternative candidates is 72,976. The difference between the winner, Obama, and the runner-up, Romney, was 74,309. That is a mere 1,400 difference but still a far cry from a spoiler. Even if all those alternative voters voted for Romney, he still would have lost, even if by a razor thin margin.
Yet, digging deeper into the argument of a spoiler, it is usually in terms of a single candidate flipping the election, not a small army of them. In Florida, the candidate with the third highest number of votes was Gary Johnson with a whopping 44,726 votes. Or just a little over half the difference between the duopoly candidates.
Other Statistics of Note
Other things to note from this list are just who other voters from other states could choose from. Looking at this, 49 states plus the District of Columbia were able to vote for Gary Johnson. 42 states plus DC were able to vote for Jill Stein. 38 state had Virgil Goode on their ballots. 28 states had Rocky Anderson as an option.
So with the two biggest arguments against opening up the ballots to alternative candidates refuted so easily, why is it so hard to convince the state legislature to open the ballot? One can only assume that it is a matter of preserving political advantage within the state. At the time the ballot access requirements were changed to their current form, entrenched Democratic legislators were afraid of losing their footing after a poor showing of their Presidential candidate against the Republican candidate and the American Reform candidate. Today, we have entrenched Republican legislators feeling the same pinch.
Regardless of their motives, the point is clear. Oklahoma has nothing to gain from keeping the current worst in the nation ballot access requirements on the books. Opening up the ballot to alternative candidates will not hurt the duopoly at the polls, at least in the short run. By opening up the ballot to alternatives, the Republican legislators would gain quite a bit of good will and political capital from the Independent voters in Oklahoma. Sticking to the status quo will do nothing for them.