An Assembly of Pieces

James Anderson Merritt's piecemeal thoughts and observations, and the occasional attempt to put some of the pieces together.
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All material except cited quotations Copyright (C) 2004-2008 by James Anderson Merritt. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Third-parties "spanked"

Television talking heads were yapping about the "exceptional turnout" for last night's recall election. I went to the California secretary of state's recall election website, and found some interesting things:

Last night (with 100% of precincts reporting), a total of 7,978,767 people voted either "Yes" or "No" on the recall. The "No on recall" (i.e., "Keep Davis") vote was 3,562,487. The Green Party's Peter Camejo got 213,087 votes. Together, all three candidates listed as "Libertarian" on the ballot received only 5,204 votes.

Looking back to 2002, 7,738,781 people participated in the gubernatorial election(including the quarter-million who went to the polls but did not vote for governor). A total of 3,433,490 people voted for Gray Davis (with opponent Bill Simon losing by fewer than 400,000 votes). Peter Camejo garnered 393,036 votes and even the Druid Libertarian, Gary Copeland, got 161,203 votes.

Now, I don't know how the as-yet-uncounted votes (e.g., from the absentee ballots) will swell the final total or change the standings, but at the moment, the picture painted by the figures looks very different than the one you get from TV.

Mr. Camejo is calling this election a "victory" because debate organizers had the courtesy to let him into debates including the "big one" with Arnold. Did he ever even clear the formal qualification hurdles for the big debate, or any of the smaller ones? Even so, with that big publicity push, and even though the election turnout was several tens of thousands greater than last November, Camejo lost nearly 180,000 votes, relative to his last showing. This is not a particularly convincing show of "Green" solidarity or strength, in my opinion.

The Libertarians did far worse, however. Were any of their candidates in any televised debates? Hell, the California Broadcasters Association (organizers of the "big" debate) left a chair empty rather than give the unfilled slot to Libertarian party-endorsed candidate Ned Roscoe. Even a Druid was able to get over 100,000 votes last November, but all LP candidates combined (including the one who was listed as LP but promoted himself as "independent") barely eked out 5,000 votes last night.

The Green showing, as poor as it was, was the outstanding achievement of third-parties in this election. If you ask me, it came from party loyalty, as well as Camejo's vigorous and fairly-well publicized campaign activities, which included several televised debates. The Libertarians barely blipped in news coverage, and were ultimately unable even to get the same people who voted for a spitting Druid last November, to punch the card for more "sensible" libertarian alternatives this time around. What's up with that?

Despite the populist theme of this "historic" election, despite the unprecedented opportunity for citizen candidates and third-parties to make a big splash, and despite the hopes that previous abstainers would vote en masse this time, the truths of this election seem to be these:

* The major party machines were validated -- even the losing Democratic regime appeared to hold onto its recent voting strength.

* Turnout remained relatively low, under eight million. This was almost 240,000 better than, but still comparable with, the last regular gubernatorial election, which suffered from one of the lowest turnouts ever. In other words, multitudes of disaffected voters were NOT brought into the process.

* Third parties lost ground in general (with the notable and debatable exception of Camejo's appearance in televised debates, a courtesy that didn't seem to do him much good on election night, and may not be extended to the Greens next time, owing to their relatively lackluster showings last November and even worse showing last night).

Everyone is saying that the Democrats got spanked last night, and that some regrouping is now in order and long overdue. I agree in one sense, but in the sense that Gray Davis got about as many votes last night as he did in November, I can't see this as the "collapse" that so many pundits are trumpeting. On the other hand, the Libertarians (as a party) really were spanked, and the Greens had better not be so smug as to take their hype to heart, either. Camejo spun the results as Green strength, but the official numbers scream "decrepitude" to me.


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