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Will Greens Abandon IRV?
by Don Fitz, Green Party of St. Louis
The Blob is coming. That amorphous ever-changing thing that swallows up whatever tries to live on its own is coming after Greens. But wait…look…is it really the Blob? Or is it the Democratic Party...
The Green warrior waves his weapon to slay the hideous slime-creature. On it is scratched “IRV.” Is the Green dropping the weapon? The 2004 election says, “Yes.”
The demand for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) has been a key element in building the Green Party as an independent political force. If there is an actual or de facto abandonment of IRV, entry of Greens into the Democratic Party is only a matter of time. IRV means that voters get to rank order their preferences. In the 2000 election, people often explained that with IRV, they could rank Ralph Nader first, Al Gore second and whomever third. If Nader was not one of the final contestants, their vote would transfer to their second choice, Gore.
Between 2000 and 2004 the Democratic Party let out a non-stop whine that the Greens had “spoiled” the election. One of the rarest answers that Greens gave to this attack was that if the Democrats would work to implement IRV, they would have nothing to fear in future elections. Of course, with a few exceptions, Democrats have no interest in implementing IRV. Many are well aware that if Ralph Nader were allowed in presidential debates and if there were IRV, Nader would win a huge number of votes, perhaps even more than the Democrat.
Democrats would rather lose races to Republicans than give the Green Party the chance to replace it.
Democrats would rather lose races to Republicans than give the Green Party the chance to replace it. This is what Greens should have been saying. Instead, a large portion of Green leaders caved in to the Democrats and echoed the argument that their major goal should be preventing the election of Republicans.
In the middle to late 1990s, many Greens used to say that they hoped that they would spoil elections because this would be the only way to push Democrats into working for IRV. After 2000, this argument was noticeable by its absence. It was replaced by a Pollyannaish fantasy that if the Greens would be nice to Democrats then Democrats would support IRV. As if Democratic bosses wanted to do anything to the Green Party other than exterminate it.
The election of 2004 set the precedent: if polls predict a close race for President, the Greens should bow out. This logic means that if Greens predict that a state-wide race for Governor or Senator might be a toss- up, they should not run a candidate, no matter how awful the Democrat is. And the same logic keeps Greens out of tight local races. It means that Greens should focus on races where their participation will not hurt a Democrat or run in races where candidates do not declare their party. In other words, other than those highly exceptional locations (such as San Francisco) where Greens can win, they should expend the greatest energy when they are the most irrelevant.
If the Green Party accepts that it should not run a candidate when the Democratic Party shrieks at it, what is it to do? One option is fusion, which means a party can nominate the candidate of another party and the candidate appears on the ballots of two parties. Greens could pretend to be an independent party functioning as an appendage of the corporate Democratic Party.
If this happens, some Green newcomer who does not carry the baggage of rationalizing political twists and turns is likely to ask, “If we only run candidates when the Democratic Party tells us we can, if we nominate the same candidates as the Democrats, and if we work for Democratic candidates we don’t nominate, why don’t we admit that we are Democrats?” The “safe states” emperor can fuss and fume about “Green values,” but his nakedness is exposed.
Many Greens-for-Kerry are falling into the same Democratic Party black hole that co-opted US progressives since before their grandfathers were born. They may claim to be Green for a few years (or a few weeks), but either they or their successors will not be satisfied with their pragmatic mug yearning for votes as a Democrat while their wump is still dragging the Green Party down.
If Greens are going to build a genuine political alternative they will have to rediscover IRV. They will have to loudly proclaim that the Democratic Party is costing itself elections by denying voters the right to rank order candidates. Otherwise…
What do two Greens say to each other as they start to disappear? “See you inside the Blob.”
[5 jan 05]