The following list of Legislative priorities were written by Roy Minet of Lancaster County and Adopted by the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania at their board meeting in Harrisburg on February 26th as an official statement of the board to the Legislature of the Commonwealth
We use the mechanism of elections to choose those who will wield political power in order to keep this important decision-making power from falling into the hands of just a few people. The Pennsylvania Constitution unequivocally specifies that, “Elections shall be free and equal.”
Obviously, the overall process of electing candidates is critical to putting the best people into office and thereby achieving high quality government. That means the primary objective of elections is to make the best possible decisions for the overall well-being of all qualified electors. Every aspect of the process needs to be carefully examined and engineered to achieve this primary objective and to ensure the integrity of the process.
Unfortunately, there are several areas where this has not been done well at all. It is a particularly good time to re-examine everything since the technology available in the second decade of the 21st century, when very carefully utilized, can enable us to do a better job than was previously possible. It should be noted here that some attempts to utilize modern technology which are already in service have been steps backward in that they do not provide a durable, human-readable audit trail; their use should be discontinued.
Attention also needs to be directed to ending politics as a lucrative career. We need to return to the concept of productive individuals from the private sector temporarily leaving their careers to serve in elective office, then returning to their private lives.
Fix Ballot Access
It all starts with ballot access. It is impossible for voters to choose good candidates if they do not appear on the ballot. Competition always drives improvement and this surely is true for elective offices. Ideally, voters should always have a choice of at least three options, preferably four or five. More wouldn’t be bad, especially with better voting systems that would have no trouble handling many options.
In about half of the races for Pennsylvania State Representative, there is only one (1) candidate on the ballot; that’s no choice at all. Clearly, Pennsylvania would benefit from having more choices, not less.
It is just as pernicious (and just as shameful) to rig elections by controlling who appears on the ballot as it is to manipulate the voting process itself. The only valid and justifiable reason for any barrier to ballot access is to screen out large numbers of “frivolous” candidates. So, such a barrier must be as low as it can possibly be and still serve its purpose. There is no legitimate reason to make it higher.
When establishing ballot access requirements, we should be mindful not to exclude potentially good candidates who may not have large resources available. The traditional standard is that a prospective candidate should have a “modicum” of public support to appear on the ballot. It would seem that there should be two ways to obtain ballot access.
First, an individual may gather the signatures of qualified electors on a nominating petition. A modicum is a small amount, particle, speck, fragment, morsel, shred or pinch. It would seem that about 200 signatures might be a pretty good modicum for offices which are filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Requiring more than 600 or so becomes prohibitive to would-be candidates with small means. It is better to err on the low side. If hordes end up on the ballot, raise the barrier slightly if/when that problem persists. It’s hard to think of a good reason why a modicum would be different for differing offices or jurisdictions. A drop of water is a drop of water, whether it came from a puddle or an ocean. It should be the responsibility of the Secretary of State to validate all signatures, and once accepted, they are not challengeable.
Second, organized political parties demonstrate a modicum of public support through their voter registration numbers. As practiced in other states, a party achieving at least 0.05% or 0.10% registration of statewide electors surely has met that standard. Such parties should be able to select candidates meeting their standards using their own nominating processes (and at their own expense), and then certify their nominees to the Department of State. This should be the only categorization of political parties in Pennsylvania.
There obviously is a small marginal administrative cost to taxpayers for an additional candidate to be handled in the election system. Therefore, a reasonable flat filing fee is justifiable for each and every candidate. $100 to $200 would seem to be the correct range. Again, there is no obvious reason this should vary depending on the office being sought. Such a fee also adds a few bricks to the wall against frivolity.
Note that a 1997 study published in the Ohio State Law Journal by Mark R. Brown found that 100 signatures and $100 were effective at screening out unserious candidates while also helping to minimize races in which voters had insufficient choice.
This ballot access issue is of the highest priority since Pennsylvania’s current ballot access laws/procedures (as applied) have been declared unconstitutional by a federal court.
Replace Plurality Voting
It has been well known for more than two centuries that the widely used plurality voting method (the option receiving the largest number of votes wins) works well only when there are just two options. When there are more than two options and no option receives a majority of the vote, plurality completely falls apart and is simply not capable of picking the option that should win. Also, it is the limitations of plurality voting which cause the almost irresistible pressure to vote insincerely for “the lesser of two evils.”
Many alternative voting systems have been proposed over the years with widely differing characteristics. Some of these would be far better than plurality and some would be considerably worse. Many aspects need to be considered when choosing the “best” method, and the tradeoffs are not as simple as they may at first appear.
IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) is one alternative method that has gained some popularity and was recently adopted in Maine. There is no doubt that IRV achieves some improvement over plurality at an acceptable increase in complexity. Unfortunately, IRV still has some very serious flaws. There still are important and common situations in which IRV is utterly incapable of rendering an intelligent choice, just like plurality. Much better methods are known.
For a more detailed explanation, please see the article, “Plurality Voting Needs to Be Replaced, But Not with IRV” by Roy A. Minet.
Drawing voting districts has become a modern art form. The “artists” are career politicians of the old party which has control at the time blatantly attempting to assure their reelection in perpetuity. Reasonable specifications and procedures should govern all redistricting. A requirement that the perimeter of a district may not exceed five times the square root of its area would help. Alternatively or in addition, a specially constituted ad hoc redistricting commission could be formed on which no political party or ideological faction has a majority.
End Taxpayer Funding of Primaries
The expenditure of dollars confiscated from taxpayers for the benefit of any private political organization is just plain wrong, period. Primary elections are the mechanism used by the two old parties to nominate their candidates for general elections. As such, they should be entirely financed by the parties themselves. Referenda should be handled in general elections, not primaries.
Eliminate Taxpayer Funding of Pensions
No taxpayer dollars should be expended for pensions.