By Howie Hawkins
The Freedom to Vote Act, the pared down voting rights legislation that Democratic Senators unveiled on September 14, must be supported to preempt GOP state laws for partisan gerrymandering, voter suppression, election subversion, and intimidation of voters and election administrators.
Yet this bill also deserves vigorous protest from the Left for its public campaign financing provisions, which are effectively for the two big capitalist parties only.
The bill eliminates the Presidential Election Campaign Fund on December 31, 2021. That is the fund which Green Party presidential candidates have used to qualify for presidential primary matching funds. That funding has been crucial in paying for petitioners to qualify the Green Party for state ballots under the onerous signature requirements of most states. No major party candidates used primary matching funds in 2020 because it limited total primary spending to $50 million, which is not enough for the corporate party candidates these days. So they are eliminating it because only the Green Party still uses the program.
The money from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund will be transferred to a new State Election Assistance and Innovation Trust Fund for two programs of public funding of House candidates. One is a voucher program where voters who ask for it can get a $25 “Democracy Credit” they can then send to House candidates in increments of at least $5.
The other program is a matching funds program. To qualify, a candidate must have at least 1,000 contributors and raise at least $50,000 in contributions of $200 or less. Democracy Credit contributions count toward this total. Qualified candidates then receive a 6-to-1 match for qualified contributions.
The problem for third party upstarts like the Green Party is that this qualifying threshold is prohibitively high for most such candidates. A review of 544 Green House candidates from 1994 to 2020 found that only one for sure and maybe one or two others would have qualified under this qualifying threshold.
So the Freedom to Vote Act’s public financing program cuts out the Greens and provides its funding only for major party candidates.
The Republican attack on democracy is despicably authoritarian and racist. But the Democrats are not so innocent either. Party suppression is a form of voter suppression. It’s what authoritarian governments do. It’s what Democrats do in the U.S.
The Democrats in the states are passing laws that make it harder for third parties to qualify for the ballot. New York Democrats passed such a law during the covid lockdown in 2019 that is the one of the most restrictive ballot qualification laws in the nation. It cost the Green Party its New York ballot line in 2020. This year Nevada passed a more difficult ballot access law that was aimed at the Green Party. Now the Democrats’ voting rights legislation eliminates the public campaign funding program that the Green Party has been able to qualify for.
The Freedom to Vote Act should pass for voting rights and election protection. To pass it will require lifting the filibuster at least for voting rights legislation. If the Democrats can’t do that—at least to protect their majorities in both Houses of Congress from takeovers by Republican minorities—they can’t do anything.
Whatever the Democrats do about that, we can’t count on them to support a full multi-party democracy where every political viewpoints gets its fair share of representation and power. It is time for the Left to take the lead in the pro-democracy fight, including voting rights, real election results, fair ballot access, equal access to public campaign financing, and proportional representation in place of single-member-district, winner-take-all plurality voting that is the institutional scaffolding for the exclusionary two-party system of corporate rule.
Howie Hawkins was the 2020 Green Party candidate for President.
Originally posted on CounterPunch at https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/09/17/freedom-to-vote-act-for-capitalist-parties-only/