The state got a new political party this week when the state board of elections voted to certify the Green Party. The party that nominated Jill Stein in 2016 and Ralph Nader in 2000 joins Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians on the ballot. In 2016, North Carolina was one of only three states that did not allow Stein on ballot because the Green Party was not officially a party.
The GOP passed election reform laws that allowed easier access to the ballot. Now, any party that gets on the ballot in 35 states during a presidential election is automatically eligible. Parties can also get on the ballot with about 12,000 signatures. In the past, parties needed to get signatures from about 90,000 registered voters to get on the ballot and needed to receive at least 2 percent of the vote to stay on the ballot in subsequent elections.
The Libertarian Party is the only other party that’s been able to stay on the ballot in North Carolina. They don’t seem to pull from either party directly. They’re against regulation and taxes which appeals to Republicans but they’re also pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, and pro-marijuana legalization. If they pull from the GOP, they would pulling from the middle where the most pragmatic Republicans live.
In the long term, these changes could transform elections in North Carolina. The two dominant parties are struggling to hold their coalitions together. Democrats’ left flank is perpetually dissatisfied with centrist candidates who can win statewide, accusing them of being Republican-lite. Republicans’ right flank call their centrists RINOs, for “Republican in Name Only.” The fastest growing segment of registered voters is unaffiliated.
Imagine a bunch of single-issue parties. We could see a gun-rights party or abortion rights party. There’s apparently a Constitutional Party trying to get on the ballot. Any of those parties could syphon votes from one of the major parties, especially in a presidential year.
The Green Party probably won’t play much of a role in a midterm like 2018 but could pose a significant problem for Democrats in 2020 and beyond. They excite the aspirations of the Democrats’ left-wing with a platform promoting renewable energy, universal health care, a protectionist foreign policy and an emphasis on equal rights. In a state where the governor’s race was decided by about 10,000 votes, the Green Party could offer people disgruntled over something like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline a place to go. Unlike the Libertarian Party, which has little appeal to the GOP’s right flank, the Green Party platform is an uncompromising version of parts of the Democratic Party’s agenda.
That’s not the only possible outcome, of course. The arrival of the Green Party could also force the Democrats to articulate more of a vision, making it a stronger party. By 2020, we could also see right-wing populist parties that steal GOP votes, offsetting any losses Democrats see. Over time, we could become a multi-party state like New York. Democrats and Republicans will likely remain dominant but in the most competitive state in the nation, a few votes here and a few votes there could make a big difference.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com, a website of commentary and analysis. Originally published at politicsnc.com.