By D. Frank Robinson, co-founder of the LP and founding chair of its Bylaws Committee
Historically, an American political party has not been a consistent entity; rather, it has been an ever-changing mix or coalition of individuals and groups who use the institution of a party to advance their own particular economic and social goals through a charismatic figure for President – when available.
The Libertarian Party, conceived in 1971 by David F Nolan and formally established in 1972, broke the mold of the two dominant parties. First, it was not a coalition of specialized economic factions. The founders broadly agreed on certain philosophical concepts. Second, they agreed unanimously on a statement of creed, a formal Statement of Principles (SoP). The Libertarian Party creed is non-violence in all social, economic and political activities – a purely voluntary society based on self-ownership. Third, the party founders entrenched that statement of principles with a virtually unamendable rule at their second national convention. Their SoP has not been altered in the subsequent 43 years because no coalition of partisans has marshaled the support to amend their Statement of Principles by the required 7/8th vote. Fourth, that rigid statement of doctrine and virtual unamendability has not fatally splintered the Libertarians. In 2006 an LP convention demolished the party’s platform from previous usage, but the meta-platform of the SoP remained unassailable.
In the intervening years since its founding, the LP has nominated some Presidential candidates about whom many of the members were less than enthusiastic – hardly unique for American voters. Libertarians, from experience in numerous court battles for ballot access and litigation with the Federal Election Commission, deeply distrust the two long-established political parties who control election laws. Many Libertarians suspect operatives of those older parties have engaged in various schemes to sabotage the Libertarians electoral efforts and the integrity of the party’s process to nominate its president tickets over the preferences of the general membership.
American political parties typically follow procedures devised in the 19th and early 20th centuries over a long period using caucuses, tax-payer subsidized primary elections and finally culminating in a convention of thousands of delegates bound to perfunctorily nominate the predetermined national candidates. In the era of television these conventions are essentially just an extended, highly scripted infomercial – boring.
Libertarians have emulated the old parties as best they could even if dissatisfying to the members. They need not remain in that conventional and extravagant rut.
To remedy members growing disdain, I propose to reform the LP nominating process for the national ticket with what I call “distributed voting”. In brief, I propose that state and national parties hold simultaneous conventions to vote for the candidates for the national nominations (POTUS and VP) using video conferencing with the national convention. The state affiliate party delegates in their own local conventions would see the national convention activities via video. These simultaneous local state conventions would also provide the opportunity for local media coverage not only for the national candidates but also local LP candidates. Archived video of these events combined could be a useful resource of footage for use in the general election campaigns of all candidates, but these aspects are secondary to increasing member participation and morale.
The affiliate parties need not conduct any other business during this distributed national convention except voting for the national candidates, or, a state party may even opt out of the local convention opportunity and only send delegates to the national convention. The national convention delegates only would conduct all other national LP business. My contention is this reform could give more members a more direct control of choosing presidential nominees than in previous conventions.
This proposal is not voting via the internet. Votes would be cast and counted locally at the state conventions simultaneously with national convention voting before being transmitted to the national convention officials where they would be combined with the votes of those delegates. If the LP adopts the process proposed it would certainly make the Libertarians even more unique among U S political parties in a fifth way.
The proclivity of Libertarians for political innovation has yet to produce significant electoral success, yet Libertarians have been durable as America’s third largest party for over four decades.