The United States has had popular elections for U.S. Senate starting in 1914. In the entire history of these elections, there had never been a U.S. Senate election in which the combined Democratic-Republican Party vote for U.S. Senate had fallen below one-third of the vote, until November 7, 2006. In that election, in Vermont, over two-thirds of the voters chose someone who wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican. Of course, the vast bulk of this “other” vote went to Bernie Sanders, who received 65% of the vote. The total “other” vote in the Vermont race was 67.6%.
Previous to 2006, the record had been in Minnesota in 1928, when 66.3% of the voters had voted for someone other than a Democrat or Republican.
In the opinion of Ballot Access News, a model state ballot access for minor parties would closely resemble the laws in place in Colorado, Delaware and Louisiana. Ballot-qualified status for a minor party should be based on whether it has a reasonable number of registered voters. It should not be based on a party’s vote in the previous election. Colorado and Louisiana define a ballot-qualified minor party to be a group with 1,000 registered voters; Delaware defines it to be a group with registration of one-twentieth of 1% of the state total.
Of course, this model law cannot be applied in the 21 states that do not have registration by party.
The advantage of using registration data, instead of votes cast at a previous election, are: (1) registration data is current, whereas votes in a previous election are not. Sometimes parties that pass the vote test in a previous election cease to exist. California recognized the Natural Law Party in 2004 and 2006, because it had polled 2% in 2002. But the party had ceased to exist in 2004 and 2006, and California wasted money printing up Natural Law Party ballots when no one ran in that party’s primary in either year.
(2) Using a voter registration test, instead of a vote test, gives minor parties the option to skip the statewide races, if they wish, and just concentrate on offices that are easier to win, such as state legislative seats and partisan county and city offices. But when a statewide vote test is used, minor parties are forced to compete in statewide contests even if they may not wish to.
(3) Voter registration tests do not cost much money to administer. By contrast, petitions, as a method to qualify new parties, do force elections officials to waste public money on the petition-checking process. Petition-checking generally costs 10 cents per signature. And if elections officials use the challenge system, and don’t check petitions unless a private group challenges the petition, the results are often unjust. Petitioning parties are least likely to be challenged if those parties have so little appeal that they don’t threaten either major party, and most likely to be challenged if they have real voter support.
(4) Petitioning is inherently flawed. There are always illegible signatures. There are always signatures from people who have moved and re-registered so recently that the voter registration records are not up to date. Disputes about the number of valid signatures are costly to resolve.
This week, 33 U.S. Senate seats were up for election. Republicans won only 9 of them. This is the smallest number of seats that either major party has won in any election year since 1964, when the Republicans won only 7 seats.
The contrast between the two houses of Congress is extreme. Republicans won 27% of the U.S. Senate seats that were up, but 46% or 47% of the U.S. House seats that were up. There are still 8 U.S. House seats undetermined: Connecticut 2, Florida 13, Georgia 12, New Mexico 1, North Carolina 8, Ohio 2, Ohio 15, and Washington 8. UPDATE: thanks for the comment, which is correct; Texas 23 is also undecided since it has a run-off upcoming.
On November 7, Douglas County, Nebraska voters voted 68%-32% to make County Commission elections non-partisan. Douglas County contains Omaha. Generally, Nebraska county elections are partisan, even though that state has non-partisan elections for state legislature.
Approximately 12% of all the voters in Sarasota County, Florida, failed to vote for U.S. House, even though the race was very close. In the district as a whole, the Republican is leading the Democrat by fewer than 300 votes. The Sarasota County Elections Supervisor, Kathy Dent, speculated that voters (who use touch screens) were confused because the U.S. House race was on a separate screen than the statewide races. She blamed the need for a separate screen on the fact that there was a “glut” of independent candidates for U.S. Senate.
However, there were only 4 independent candidates on the ballot for U.S. Senate, plus the Democratic and Republican nominees, for a total of 6. The Florida Democratic presidential primary in 2004 had 9 candidates on the ballot; the Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary this year had 5 candidates on the ballot. Somehow, no one is known to have complained about the “glut” of candidates in those primaries.
On November 7, the voters of Greene County, Alabama, elected a write-in candidate to be Sheriff. He defeated his ballot-listed opponent by about 100 votes. The sheriff-elect is Ison Thomas.