From the "Non-Majority Rule" Desk: Fake Third Party Candidates, Meek's Mixed Support, and the Unusual Cases of Illinois and Minnesota

by Chris Marchsteiner, The Non-Majority Rule Desk // Published October 13, 2010

There’s no shortage of news at the non-majority rule desk. The lead story this week was yet another instance of faux third party candidates, this time in a New Jersey U.S. House race. The Camden Courier Post reports that political operatives associated with Democratic Congressman John Adler recruited tea-party candidate Peter DeStefano to join the race, with a hope that he would siphon 5% of the vote from Republican Jon Runyan. Local tea party groups have denounced DeStefano, according to the Associated Press, and have excluded him from their events. DeStefano insists that he has not received support from Democrats, and Adler says that he does not believe his campaign had anything to do with the DeStafano campaign, but the controversy continues.

Earlier this fall, Republicans admitted finding candidates to run as Green Party candidates in elections in Arizona, and Democrats have been accused of recruiting Tea Party candidates in other states. As these fake candidates continue to pop up in elections across the country, it is clear that not even media attention and public exposure of this sort of dirty tactic will eliminate it as long as it can “work” – e.g., as long as we have a plurality voting system that can punish increased voter choice by splitting the vote and allowing non-majority winners. Instant runoff voting remains the obvious solution, as persuasively explained in an article last week in The New Republic.

In recent weeks we have covered instances of races in which the tension over third party candidates has led to some interesting results—including parties turning on their own candidates, as in the case of Republicans in Colorado’s gubernatorial race. States where third parties and independents are either playing a potentially decisive “spoiler” role in races for governor and U. S. Senator or in fact may win include Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

In Florida, as the U.S. Senate race looks increasingly bleak for Democrat Kendrick Meek and independent Charlie Crist, the Democratic Party has decided to rally support behind Meek more than ever. The concern among Democrats is that if voters do not turn out for Meek, Democrats farther down the ticket will suffer in November. But there might be more political reasons at play in the strong support for Meek. The Congressional Black Caucus want to portray Meek’s run as historic in the same light as President Obama’s election; however, Crist is currently a more viable candidate who will likely caucus with Democrats if elected. It is speculated that the White House continues to throw support behind Meek instead of Crist because the president is afraid of upsetting the Congressional Black Caucus at a time when Obama “has enough problems” already, according to The Ledger. Yet support is not unanimous: the People’s Choice of Palm Beach County PAC petitioned the undecided County Commissioner Burt Aaronson yesterday to ask Meek drop out of the race. According to the Palm Beach Post, the PAC claims to “represents 80 to 85 percent of the Democratic clubs in the county.” Demonstrating the political climate that plurality voting encourages, Aaronson addressed the decision of choosing between Crist or Meek, saying, “This is a very difficult decision on my part, but having been a loyal Democrat for many years, my conscience can not be cured if Marco Rubio were to become our senator.”

FiveThiryEight columnist Nate Silver brought attention to the Illinois U.S. Senate race late last week. Calling the race “within the margin of error,” he went on to comment on the peculiarity of the race regarding third parties:

“What’s unusual about Illinois is the number of voters committed to minor-party candidates — like the Green Party’s nominee, LeAlan Jones, and the Libertarian, Mike Labno — or who haven’t committed to a candidate at all yet. Collectively, the third-party candidates have held between 5 and 11 percent of the vote in recent polls, while about 10 to 15 percent of voters remain undecided. Such a circumstance is quite unusual. I searched our database of Senate race polls and came up with only four examples since 1998 in which neither major-party candidate had more than 42 percent of the vote in the polling average with a month to go in the campaign.” Clearly, many Illinois voters do not like their major party choices. Silver goes on to mention that it is not unusual for the people of Illinois to vote for third party candidates to protest the two main parties. 

The gubernatorial race in Minnesota shows third party candidates having the chance to tilt the scales with Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer picking up 40% and 38% of the vote respectively. Rasmussen reports that Independence Party candidate Tom Horner polls at 15%; 1% favor a different candidate altogether. The report notes that the interesting aspect of these polls is that Horner’s support is not tapering off as the election nears, which is the typical trend for third party candidates. Like the voters of Illinois, it appears that Minnesotans’ dissatisfaction with their choices will stop them from sacrificing their votes in the name of supporting a candidate with a strong chance of winning.

Continue to check the non-majority rule desk for updates as the November elections approach.