Jim Galloway, political reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the 19th most popular news website in the country, wrote the following opinion piece on the upcoming Libertarian Party national convention on May 19, 2020:
Over the weekend, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan decided that he wouldn’t make a run for president under the Libertarian Party banner after all.
Last July, Amash abandoned the Republican party over its uncritical support for Donald Trump, later joining with Democrats and casting a vote to impeach the president. He proclaimed himself a Libertarian in April, even as he announced the formation of a committee to explore his presidential possibilities.
But on Saturday, via Twitter, Amash decided against a third-party run. “Polarization is near an all-time high. Electoral success requires an audience willing to consider alternatives,” he wrote.
Amash was the party’s best bet to make a loud noise in November. There is still a reason to keep an eye on Libertarians as they pick their presidential nominee this weekend. But many will consider the “how” to be more important than the “who.”
The pandemic has forced the Libertarian nominating convention into cyberspace — something that Republicans and Democrats alike might find themselves mimicking if the coronavirus doesn’t abate by mid-August. That’s when Democrats are scheduled to gather in Milwaukee, followed by Republicans in Charlotte.
On Friday evening and Saturday morning, 1,045 Libertarian delegates will become the first 50-state, national party to select their nominees for U.S. president and vice president via Zoom, one of several video chat services that have risen up to serve as a substitute for face-to-face contact.
IPR note: In discussion I’ve had on facebook the “50 state” claim was challenged. The LP’s current presidential ballot access map as of this writing is:
While this is an easier map than the party has ever faced at this point in the year in past presidential elections, and 50 state plus access for its presidential nominees was achieved in 2016, 2000 (albeit with a different presidential ticket in Arizona), 1996 and 1992, it fell short of that in other years. It is unclear whether all the remaining ballot access hurdles can be overcome due to the effect of coronavirus on petitioning and fundraising.
The party is suing and/or planning to sue multiple states to ease access by reducing or eliminating the signature requirement and/or allowing e-sigs. So far, it has scored a victory in Illinois, where the 25,000 valid signatures required would have been the highest hurdle in 2020. Maryland is the next highest remaining hurdle at 10,000 signatures and the party is suing to reduce that to 1,000. Pennsylvania, Virginia and Alabama are next with 5,000 each; Pennsylvania and Virginia already have lawsuits pending.
Some of the other remaining states need a thousand valid signatures or less: Tennessee (275), New Jersey (800), Rhode Island and Washington State (1000 each). Iowa needs 1,500, and Wisconsin and Minnesota need 2,000 each.
Regardless of whether full ballot access is achieved this year or not, the consensus of the online discussion I had was that the 50 state claim is correct because the party has charted state affiliates in every state and DC which are recognized by the party and at least somewhat active.
If multiple trial runs posted on YouTube are any measure, the two-day convention will be void of any red-white-and-blue bunting, confetti, noisemakers, and stage harangues. Instead, participants will be using their inside voices. Even if some won’t be able to find their “mute” buttons.
A thousand living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms – kempt and unkempt — will serve as background. On the bright side, enjoyable beverages will be only a refrigerator away, no one will be required to pace on concrete floors for hours on end, and restroom lines will be exceedingly short.
Libertarians were to gather in Austin, Texas, this Memorial Day weekend. Then the hotel they booked canceled its operations, and Texas officials imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine on all out-of-state interlopers.
They still hope to have an in-person national gathering in July – most likely in Orlando, though they’ve looked at Atlanta. A contest for national party chair could be on the agenda. But because they lack a primary system, Libertarians are under deadline pressures when it comes to the presidential contest that Republicans and Democrats are not. The names of their candidate for president, along with electors, must be submitted far earlier in many states.
The New Hampshire deadline is June 12. Alabama’s is June 24. Georgia’s is the fourth Monday in June, or the 25th. Which is why, only two weeks ago, the Libertarian National Committee voted to take its presidential nomination process into virtual territory. (One of the interior debates was whether cyberspace met the party bylaw definition of a meeting “place.”)
IPR note: The Alabama deadline is actually August 13. The June deadline applies to full party ballot status in non-presidential years. It’s in March in presidential years. However, the LP last completed that petition in 2000, when the deadline was later. In 2004 and subsequent years it has put its presidential ticket on the Alabama ballot as independents because that requires 5,000 valid signatures, while the full party petition requires 3% of the most recent gubernatorial vote, typically in the 40thousand-something range, in the 30thousands in 2014-8, and about 52,000 valid signatures currently. No other party has successfully petitioned for statewide ballot access in Alabama since the laws were made more difficult in the 1990s either, except for the well-funded Americans Elect effort which failed to field any candidates.
“We’ve been running training sessions on how to run a parliamentary meeting online. We’re throwing every monkey wrench in,” said Dan Fishman, executive director of the Libertarian Party. The final dry run, with 486 or so participants, was Sunday.
By trade, Fishman is a software architect – not uncommon among Libertarians, he said. “We’ve always been a party of technologists. Among software engineers, the dominating preference is libertarianism. So we have a lot of technical people really helping out,” he said.
If you’re familiar with Zoom and similar apps, you’ve probably been able to arrange your screen so that you can see all participants via the cameras built into their laptops and smart phones. But that function has a hard limit of 1,000 participants – and with alternate delegates, the online Libertarian convention will have far more.
This might get complicated: Instead, Libertarians decided to use the Zoom “webinar” feature. Delegates will be able to see the principals, but not each other. State party chairs, who as “panelists” can see the convention/audience, will forward delegation votes and motions. Members of state delegations have set up Slack channels so they can chat among themselves throughout the process.
The vote for president is expected Saturday. With Amash out – he will remain the first and only member of Congress to bear a Libertarian label – the race is an open one. The only Georgian in the contest is John Monds, who is something of a Libertarian legend. In 2008, in an obscure state Public Service Commission race against Republican Doug Everett, Monds became the first Libertarian in U.S. history to win more than 1 million votes. (That amounted to 34% of the vote, so he still lost.)
There can be a quirkiness to Libertarian politics that you won’t see in the two major parties. In 2012, in the final balloting of a series of elimination rounds in a contest for party chairman, “none of the above” beat the last surviving candidate.
Nonetheless, Fishman said he expects Republicans and Democrats alike to be paying attention.
“I know at some point in time people are going to want to talk to us about this. They don’t have quite the same issues that we do, in terms of how their conventions are run, but they are going to have to do something like this,” Fishman said.
There are differences. For one thing, there’s the money. In 2016, the combined cost of the GOP (Cleveland) and Democratic (Philadelphia) conventions ran upwards of $250 million. “You could pay Microsoft $100 million and they would enable this immediately – and it would be really, really good,” Fishman said.
At the state level, Republicans and Democrats have already made the transition. The Georgia GOP last month selected a number of national delegates through meetings at the congressional district level. Many of the gatherings were online.
Georgia Democrats have moved their entire delegate selection process to the internet. Delegates will be selected at the congressional district levels on Saturday.
The Libertarian Party has a YouTube channel that will allow you to watch its proceedings, live or delayed. Do tune in, at least for a half-hour or so. You’ll get a glimpse of the skeleton of business that is actually conducted at a political convention – with all the froth and fancy removed.
We forget that the spectacles of balloons, speeches and music were originally intended to keep delegates in their chairs as endless votes were tabulated and alliances shifted. Only in the last few decades has entertainment become the primary message of national conventions. They are now weeklong TV series with daily themes.
Many call modern political conventions tedious, loud and obnoxious, and I am one of them. Many think the pandemic is a good excuse to do away with them entirely. But that gives me pause. Scripted or not, they have generated indelible moments.
There was U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, still a Georgia Democrat, at the 2004 GOP convention, endorsing incumbent President George Bush’s re-election. That same year, at the Democratic gathering, the keynote address was given by an obscure state senator from Illinois with the odd name of Barack Obama. People liked him.
Even Donald Trump’s 2016 boast on the shores of Lake Erie, that “I alone can fix it,” will go down as a pivotal moment in U.S. history.
But all of them would be far less memorable without the reaction of teeming masses in front of them. It is why movie theaters have survived the rise of Netflix. Shared experiences matter, and they will be missed if we give them up.
The compromise to nominate the presidential ticket via zoom this weekend and hold the rest of the party business in person in July was hammered out over the course of the past two weekends by the national committee. It remains highly controversial, and is already facing a vote to overturn it on the national committee e-mail list (this vote appears to be headed for defeat). Some state parties have threatened to not give the presidential ticket ballot access if there isn’t an in person convention this year, while others have threatened to not ratify decisions made at in person convention if no online option is presented. To my knowledge, no state has threatened to withhold its ballot line if the compromise holds up.
Motions to cancel the online nomination as well as to amend the agenda to do the rest of the party’s business by zoom are anticipated this weekend. In multiple polls, including a telephone poll of over 270 delegates, the compromise option has plurality but not majority support, with strong support blocs for both the in person only and the online only alternatives.
The party has numerous candidates seeking its presidential nomination but many of them will have to be write-ins in the official balloting because they won’t get enough delegate support tokens to appear on the official ballot. An even higher token threshold is required to appear in today’s official presidential debate to be moderated by John Stossel – no more than 5 participants, or fewer if that many don’t each get at least 10% of the delegate tokens which are currently being collected.
There have been numerous unofficial debates:
And probably some we missed.
This year will also be notable for having a final field which does not include former congressional or state level officeholders from the two larger parties for the first time since 2004. The LP nominated former Republican Congressman Bob Barr for president in 2008 along with VP candidate Wayne Root (both subsequently returned to the Republican Party), former Republican governor Gary Johnson in 2012 and 2016 (still in the LP) and former Republican governor Bill Weld for VP in 2016 (also back in the Republican Party). Also running for the nomination unsuccessfully in 2008 was Mike Gravel, who had been a Democratic US Senator from Alaska and also unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination earlier that same year; like most of the others listed, Gravel left the LP soon afterwards.
Weld was considered by many to be an early likely front runner for the LP’s 2020 presidential nomination, but decided to challenge President Trump in Republican primaries instead. Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican US Senator and Independent governor of Rhode Island, and former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, sought the LP nomination earlier this cycle but ended his campaign earlier this year. Justin Amash, a current US Congressman from Michigan who served most of his five terms as a Republican, switched to Independent last year and Libertarian this year, formed an exploratory committee last month before ultimately deciding not to run just days ago.
The presidential nomination is usually done by multiple ballots if no candidate garners an outright majority on the first ballot. The 2008 nomination took 6 ballots, for example. However, there may be a move this time to switch to a single round plurality winner take all, highest vote getter on an approval voting ballot, or single instant runoff ballot. I don’t know for a fact that that there will be, nor whether any such moves might succeed.
The presidential and vice presidential votes are separate; while a bylaw proposal to combine them has been submitted, unless the agenda is changed, the bylaw debate will happen in July, after the presidential ticket is already nominated. Some presidential and vice presidential candidates have endorsed each other, campaigning as a ticket, while others have expressed no preference. However, as it stands the delegates are free to pick a different running mate for the presidential candidate than the one he or she would prefer. Unsuccessful presidential candidates are eligible to seek the VP nomination if they so choose, and there are several candidates already running for the VP nomination.
One concern expressed by some, if the bifurcated convention compromise does hold up, is that the July convention might choose to not ratify the presidential ticket chosen online this weekend but rather choose a different ticket instead. While presidential nomination is not on the July agenda currently, the delegates there will have to ratify the results of the online vote, and can also amend the agenda. An equal but opposite concern is that the July convention may also have to be cancelled depending on corona related travel and convention restrictions which may be extended or reimposed. The convention was originally scheduled for Austin this weekend, but that had to be cancelled.
Other, smaller parties have nominated presidential tickets online or over the phone, but none of them were on the ballot in a majority of states or had anywhere near the number of delegates expected at the LP convention this weekend. The Constitution Party nominated Don Blankenship earlier this month online, and the Green Party plans to hold its convention online in July.
These maps may or may not be currently updated; Ballot Access News has a chart for comparison:
Green Party ballot access map as it currently appears on their website:
Green = on ballot
Yellow = petitioning in progress
However, some of the states in green consider themselves to be independent of the national party (Oregon) and thus not bound by its national nomination decision, while at least one (New Mexico) has already chosen to run a different ticket than the one chosen by the national convention.
Other parties which have so far nominated online or over the phone have even less ballot access. It’s likely that by the time the Green Party convention happens in July they will be on the ballot in a majority of states.