Pickerill: The Two-Party Cartel

March 17, 2016

“The General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.” — Indiana Constitution, Article I, Section 23.

by John Pickerill

The state of Indiana no longer follows its own Constitution. It routinely passes laws violating it, specifically when it comes to state election laws. Hoosiers have stood by and allowed our General Assembly to grant special privileges to the top two political parties, special privileges that all-but-guarantee leaders within those two parties will maintain a stranglehold on political power in our state.

State law defines a Major Political Party (MPP) as one of those two parties that received the most votes in the last election for Secretary of State. State law then hands entire control of our election system to these two parties. Only MPP (i.e., Republican Party and Democratic Party) members are allowed to serve on the Indiana Election Commission and be employees of the Indiana Election Division. These are the very organizations that enforce election laws. MPP county chairmen pick every County Election Board member and every poll worker. Only MPP members are allowed to be members of a Recount Commission, even if one of the candidates in the recount is a non-MPP candidate. Is it any surprise that every statewide office is held by an MPP member?

If that weren’t bad enough, Indiana law grants a special privilege to political parties who receive at least 10 percent of the Secretary of State vote: They get a taxpayer-funded primary election to select their nominees. Because primary elections give free publicity and media coverage to their candidates, and give the impression of greater legitimacy compared to all other parties, this makes it almost impossible for other parties to compete.

And finally, only major political parties get the special privilege to fill an office vacancy by precinct committeeman caucus. This guarantees if a MPP officeholder is removed, resigns or dies that his MPP gets to replace him with one of its own. But not true for any other party or independent. For example, if a Green Party county councilman resigned, the Green Party wouldn’t be allowed to pick his replacement. No, instead the other six county councilmen get to decide it. The flawed system encourages independents and third-party candidates to be weeded out. So much for a diversity of opinions. No other political party or independent stands a chance whenever the two major political parties form a cartel and decide to shut them out. This two-party cartel has complete power over the election process and organization.

Today, the Republican Party and Democratic Party pretend to have opposing views, but when you look past all the rhetoric there’s little significant difference in what they are really supporting. Neither party is serious about reigning in the size of government to constitutional constraints. Neither enacts anything more than token protection of civil liberties and economic liberties. Both create new schemes to interfere with the economy and enact more and more government programs. The fact that the Republican Party has held a supermajority in both Houses of the General Assembly and controls the governor’s office, but has enacted little legislation supporting its own platform, should be a red flag to all of us that we have a two-party cartel. The same lobbyists control both parties. Political principles now take a back seat to the mountain of lobbyist campaign cash.

The Indiana Constitution demands that no political party be granted special privilege that isn’t also given to every other political party, or any other class of citizens. Of course, there is little chance of the General Assembly fixing this on its own since it’s made up entirely of major political party members. The only chance to root out this two-party cartel is to find a non-partisan judge and jury with the courage to rule these special privileges unconstitutional. Only then can we restore a free and equal election system.

A political party should have to win voters over with the best ideas, not by rigging the system. “All elections shall be free and equal,” says the Indiana Constitution, Article 2, Section 1.

John Pickerill, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. A graduate of Purdue University and the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program, Pickerill retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Commander.


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