By Thomas L. Knapp
Every two years, independent and “third” party candidates for various offices scramble to get their names on ballots around the United States.
Every two years, those candidates come up against — and many of them fail to overcome — “ballot access” obstacles custom-made to produce the Republican/Democratic monopoly on political power.
And every couple of years I write a column suggesting that fundamental fairness requires doing away with the government-printed, government-regulated, Republican- and Democrat-controlled, “Australian” ballot and returning to the days when American elections were conducted entirely with write-in and/or party-provided ballots.
What I didn’t notice until recently, mainly because I didn’t ask Libertarian Party co-founder D. Frank Robinson, is that such ballots already exist and that some Americans use them in every election.
If you’re a US citizen living abroad, or a member of the US armed forces or Merchant Marine (or spouse/dependent), and don’t receive your home US state’s official “Australian” ballot, you can still vote using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.
The ballot includes a section for “under penalty of perjury” personal information disclosure, a section to write in your votes for federal elections (President, US Senate, and US House), a section for your state and local elections, and a section for any ballot initiatives you care to vote on.
What’s the virtue of the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot? Simple: It’s uncensored. Neither any candidate’s “access” nor any voter’s preferences are disallowed. Neither your local nor state election authority, nor the political party in power in your neck of the woods, gets to interpose itself between you and the candidates seeking your support.
Use of the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot gets around the “state monopoly on prepared ballots” Robinson correctly describes as “a censorship regime administered by two long self-entrenched cliques of partisans,” arguably in violation of the First Amendment.
One of the few positive outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic is a worthwhile and overdue move toward “vote by mail” that looks set to be implemented in many or most states by this November.
Voting by mail reduces one potential problem with large numbers of write-in votes: The longer voting period doesn’t stress counting systems as badly as packing most of the ballot haul into one “election day.”
If the goal is to get back to truly free and fair elections in America, we should pair universal vote by mail with universal use of the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism. He lives and works in north central Florida.