The Material World Column from the November 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Those who founded the United States and drafted its Constitution did not trust the vast majority of its citizens to vote. They left voting questions up to the states and established the Electoral College – rather than a majority vote of the people – to elect the president and vice president. It is government of the people, certainly, but not government bythe people and definitely not for the people.
In reality, there is not one election, but 51 separate elections that are held simultaneously in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each state – not the federal government – sets its own voting hours, lays down the rules for registration and early voting, and decides what sort of voting machines and ballot forms it should use. And each state, not the federal government, decides what ID a voter must produce before casting a ballot.
For the presidency of the most powerful state in the world it is a choice of Clinton or Trump, Tweedledum or Tweedledummer. Not much of a choice. However, there will be other parties’ candidates standing. Vying to be the main third party are the Green Party with Jill Stein, or the Libertarian Party and Gary Johnson but there will also be a plethora of other independent and ‘write-in’ candidates. There is the Constitution Party, then the Socialist Workers Party’s Alyson Kennedy, Party of Socialism and Liberation’s Gloria LaRiva, America’s Party/American Independent Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Prohibition Party, Reform Party USA, Socialist Party USA, Socialist Equality Party, Workers World Party, and the Veterans Party of America. Under state laws, political parties must ‘qualify’ for their candidates to be listed on the ballots and counted. The two major parties are qualified in every state but in this election both the Greens and the Libertarians have managed to get on the ballot more than ever before.
Many states have write-in laws concerning candidates where with varying rules the electorate can nominate their own candidate and, in theory, such write-in candidates can win the presidency. If the establishment refuses to work for the will of the people, the people may have to force their hand and maybe reach the point in history where the write-in vote can move the political process forward. Voting for a write-in contender is much more complicated than scribbling whatever name you please on the dotted line at the bottom of the ballot. Thirty-five states require that a write-in candidate must submit some form of affidavit and, sometimes, a filing fee at least one month before the election. 43 of the 50 states allow write-in candidates for president, but this starts the potential write-in candidate at a disadvantage. Assuming that hurdle can be cleared, the Electoral College is the problem. The write-in candidate would have to scramble to get slates of electors ready for all of the 43 states, so that those electors can vote for the write-in candidate when the Electoral College meets in December. If the write-in candidate did happen to win the popular vote, there would be a problem. When people vote, they vote for electors, and not for the presidential candidates. 43 states, representing 494 electoral votes. While a president has never been elected by write-in, at least one current United States Senator has been.
When it comes to elections where there are no socialists standing socialists urge fellow-workers to learn more about capitalism and exploitation. And because we think that, in future, the election system could be used in a constructive way we exercise our right to vote. We cast a write-in vote by writing “SOCIALISM” or “WORLD SOCIALISM” across the ballot paper. What’s the alternative? To not vote at all? More and more people are doing this, and it’s not as bad as voting for one or other of the parties that stand for keeping capitalism going. But it’s a bit of a cop-out. The anarchists like it, because they don’t believe in electoral political action. We don’t agree with their view. Our ancestors were right to struggle for the vote. The fact that up to now it hasn’t been used properly is no reason for rejecting it as ineffectual.
We say in this 2016 US presidential election, the working class should write-in for ‘WORLD SOCIALISM’.