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COMMENTARY: Democrats have their own voter suppression issues

On Feb. 15, Gallup released a poll saying support for a “third party” is at an all-time high. On March 22, state Sen. Roberta Lange, D-Las Vegas, introduced SB 292, which would make it harder for new or previously unqualified political parties to appear on the ballot in Nevada.

Supported by Democrats in the Legislature, SB 292 would double the number of signatures required to get on the ballot, from 1 percent to 2 percent of the last U.S. House statewide vote. It also would require the signatures to be spread equally over all four Nevada U.S. House districts.

Nevada’s existing party petition law is already too difficult. No party has been able to qualify under it since Americans Elect in 2011. Before that, the last time was in 1996. In 2016, Green presidential candidate Jill Stein was able to get on the ballot in 44 states plus the District of Columbia — but not in Nevada.

Like Republicans in Georgia using nonexistent voter fraud as an excuse to make it harder for Blacks to vote, Nevada Democrats have a “solution” in SB 292 in search of a problem. Unless the goal is to reduce minor party competition.

On the national level, congressional Democrats are also trying to make it harder for minor parties, via sponsoring HR1/S1 — the “For The People Act.”

HR1/S1 contains critical voting rights protections that the Green Party vigorously supports. But it also contains a poison pill designed to virtually eliminate presidential primary matching funds for “third party” candidates and parties.

Because of onerous state level ballot access laws already passed by Democrats and Republicans — like in Nevada — minor parties are unable to gain/retain ongoing ballot status. As a result, minor party presidential candidates already often have to qualify themselves and their parties on an election-by-election, state-by-state basis, via expensive petition drives. These petition drives are often supported by presidential primary matching funds — a practice long recognized by Federal Elections Commission.

HR1/S1 would make it much harder for minor parties to qualify for these funds because they would raise the threshold donation amount needed to qualify to 500 percent of the current level, and the minimum number of donors to 625 percent — levels most minor party candidates are unlikely to reach. Without these funds to use for state petition signature drives, minor parties themselves will begin to disappear across the United States.

Because HR1/S1 will likely draw no votes from Senate Republicans, a filibuster could stymie its passage. The argument from Democrats is that voting rights are so fundamental, they should be exempted from the filibuster.

Many Greens agree. But what about the right to vote for someone who reflects your views? By reducing voter choice, SB 292 and HR1/S1 both restrict that right. Both are also forms of voter suppression, because reducing voter choice takes away a reason to vote.

Nevada’s two Democratic senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, should support HR1/S1 — and exempting it from the filibuster — only if the existing presidential primary matching funds option is left in place.

It would be hypocritical to use a voting rights bill to entrench partisan political party advantage. And it would hypocritical to eliminate the filibuster to enable a bill to do so.

Michael Feinstein is a former mayor and city councilman in Santa Monica, California, and a co-founder of the Green Party of California.

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