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H.R. 1681: Ballot Fairness Act

Should third-party candidates be disadvantaged when it comes to ballot access?

Context

It’s virtually impossible to win elected office unless you run as either a Democrat or Republican.

Third-party presidential candidates in 2016 posted their best percentages since 1996, but even then they notched only 6.1 percent of total presidential votes and failed to carry a single state.

That’s even though, starting in the mid-2010s, independents became a largest percentage of registered voters than either Democrats or Republicans, according to Pew Research Center.

So if that many voters want independent candidates, is there a way to change ballots so that voters could potentially elect more of them?

What the bill does

The Ballot Fairness Act makes two major changes to congressional elections in an aim to incentivize third-party votes, or at least allow more potential for them.

First, the bill would require all congressional candidates from any party to meet the same requirements in order to be listed on a ballot. Currently, many states automatically include the Democratic and Republican candidates for a congressional seat, but any third-party challenger has to meet certain additional requirements such as accumulating a certain number of signatures.

Second, the bill would eliminate straight-ticket voting, in which marking a single box at the top of either the ‘Democratic’ or ‘Republican’ column casts all your votes for the same party in every election held that day. The idea is that removing this option would encourage more people to vote for different parties for different races, or perhaps even third-parties.

Congress has the constitutional ability to regulate congressional elections, though not any other kind of elections, such as governor for example.

It was introduced in the House on March 12 as bill number H.R. 1681 by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI3).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that voters should not be swayed while at the ballot box towards two particular parties.

“Laws should not advantage particular political parties or discriminate against candidates who choose not to affiliate with a party,” Rep. Amash said in a statement. “The Ballot Fairness Act helps equalize the treatment of candidates so elections will be fairer and voters will have more options.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that straight-ticket voting is a time saving measure that shouldn’t be eliminated, especially since many — perhaps even most — voters do in fact vote for the same party in every race.

“The more options people have, the easier it is for more eligible voters to participate — and participation is the key to our democratic process,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in a statement upon reinstating straight-ticket voting last August, after the state had previously banned the practice.

“From moms juggling work and kids to elderly veterans who find it hard to stand for long, straight-party voting provides an option for voters that allows their voices to be heard while cutting in half the time it takes them to cast their ballot.”

(Secretary Oliver’s decision was later blocked by the New Mexico Supreme Court less than two months before Election Day.)

Odds of passage

The congressional bill has not yet attracted any House cosponsors, although it’s only been out for a few days. It awaits a potential vote in the House Administration Committee.

Last updated Mar 29, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

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