Friday, June 20, 2008

The Green Party’s Internal Democracy Problem: Presidential Politics

The Green Party faces a problem — democracy. More specifically, how do you treat each person’s vote equally in a country where the two parties do their best to undermine participation of new parties?

Efforts to craft democracy in the Green Party’s presidential preference process have failed in large part because some states allow third parties to participate in tax-payer funded primary elections (as long as they meet reasonable requirements), while many other states put very high hurdles in front of third parties, effectively blocking their participation. Without being on the ballot, third parties are largely invisible. Another factor affecting party visibility is whether a state lists recognized political parties on their voter registration forms, allowing the voter to affiliate with a party — and how high the hurdles are before a party can be listed.

As a result, state Green parties use a variety of methods: government-run presidential primaries, caucuses, state party conventions, party-run balloting by mail, or some combination. With so many ways to count who is a voter, it is challenging to ensure one-person, one-vote. This confusion has allowed prevention of a truly democratic system by those who want small state parties to have more power than large state parties.

As a result, the Green Party does not have anything close to a one-person, one-vote process. Table 1 below shows the number of Greens voting in their state presidential preference contest, and the number of delegates each state gets at the coming national Green Party presidential convention in July.1 The resulting ratio of Green voters per delegate measures how much weight each Green’s vote will carry at the national convention. (These data are for the first 21 states for which the vote count data is available.)

TABLE 1 — Popular Votes Received by Each Candidate (So Far)

(For the 20 states with data available)

State Greens




Green voters

per delegate

CA 35,844 168 213
IL 2,672 44 61
AR 838 8 105
MA 1,941 32 60
DC 530 16 33
MN 187 12 15
WI 97 24 4.0
NJ 70 12 5.8
RI 36 8 4.5
OH 31 12 2.6
MI 47 19 2.5
WA 103 12 8.6
NC 31 8 3.9
CT 48 20 2.4
CO 27 12 2.3
TN 21 8 2.6
MD 70 16 4.4
VA 88 8 11
DE 12 8 1.5
NE 67 8 8.4
PA 134 32 4.2

If you group the 5 states each having a popular vote count of over 500 Green voters, and you group the other 16 states each having less than 500 Green voters, the average Greens voting per delegate at the nominating convention is shocking:2

An even more shocking way to look at it is that among these first 21 state parties, the GPUS National Committee has given more convention delegates to 6% of the voters than it has to the disenfranchised 94% !!!

(CA+IL+MA together accounted for 40,457 of the 42,894 votes of these first 21 states, or 94.3%. These 3 states have 244 delegates between them. The other 18 of these first 21 states accounted for 2,437 of the 42,894 votes, or 5.7%. Together, these 18 states have 251 delegates.)


The rejection of one-person, one-vote by the GPUS National Committee has guaranteed that Ralph Nader had the deck stacked against him very, very heavily. Nader probably realized this early in the nomination process and thus decided not to seek the Green nomination.

Before Nader dropped out of the Green nomination process on Feb. 29, however, his name was included in some primaries, where he gained a large popular vote lead. This early boost has kept him in the popular vote lead — even to this day. The leader in delegates in those same 20 states, however, is Cynthia McKinney. Here are the standings in those first 20 states, in order of popular vote:3

TABLE 2 — Green Presidential Popular Vote & Delegates Won

(First 21 States, except NE & NJ*)










Ralph Nader** 23,069 37.9% 143 30.5%


or Blank***

18,977 31.2% 35 7.5%
Cynthia McKinney 12,478 20.5% 213 45.6%
Elaine Brown 1,640 2.7% 9 1.9%
Kent Mesplay 1,303 2.1% 22 4.7%
Kat Swift 1,272 2.1% 17 3.7%
Jared Ball 1,009 1.7% 11 2.4%
Jesse Johnson 711 1.2% 17 3.6%
Other 427 0.7% 1 0.2%





* NE & NJ haven’t reported delegate allocations yet (nor NJ its vote breakdown by candidate). ** Nader’s totals include the 498 votes and 8 delegates won by Howie Hawkins, who stood in for Nader in a few early primaries, and who had pledged to urge his delegates to vote for Nader. *** These categories each appeared on the ballot in one or more states. The categories have some overlap, and are thus counted together here: “NOTA”=”None Of The Above”; “NOC”=”No Candidate”; “Uncommitted” means the resulting delegate will not be pledged to any candidate; “Blank” means the voter did not mark any of the listed presidential candidates, though many of these voters may have voted for a write-in candidate (which many state governments do not fully tabulate).

Table 2 shows that Nader, despite having 38% of the popular vote in these first 20 states, has only 32% of the delegates from those states. The disparity is even greater for McKinney, but in the opposite direction. She has only 21% of the popular vote, but more than twice that percentage of delegates so far: 44%. The rejection of one person, one vote is having the same effect in 2008 as it did in 2004 when David Cobb won the GPUS nomination — thwarting the choice of the majority of rank-and-file voting Greens.

Cynthia McKinney will almost certainly be the Green Party nominee in the current four-way race, as she already has an outright majority of the delegates allocated so far. And with Nader out of the race, he is not gaining new delegates.

The former Georgia congresswoman is certainly much stronger than the 2004 nominee, as she has actually served in Congress, where she took strong progressive positions on foreign and domestic policy. She has probably been unaware of how undemocratic the Green process has been because the tabulation of Green popular vote was not published until June 5. No such tabulation was published for the 2004 nomination race. (The tabulation this year has not been compiled and published by the GPUS, either — but by individual, concerned Greens.)


What is the solution to the lack of democracy in the Green Party? One approach is to count the votes in the primaries, caucuses and state party conventions, and give each vote equal weight in delegate representation. Rather than states gaining delegates according to a complex formula of measurements having nothing to do with actual Green participation in the presidential preference process, delegates could be apportioned by counting the actual votes of Greens in that process.

Many people in the Green Party, who have seen their reform efforts come to little over the last four years, have now given up on reforming the GPUS. Two successive presidential cycles have now seen a massive rejection of one-person, one-vote by the GPUS National Committee. Some of these Greens have decided that a new party is needed, though concrete work towards that goal is on hold during the current campaign cycle. However, the Nader-Gonzalez Campaign is creating some new state-level parties in those states where a party can gain ballot access easier than an independent can.

If a new party is created, it would not be surprising to see some state Green parties take stock of the extreme disenfranchisement created by the Green Party National Committee in the presidential selection process, and disaffiliate from the Green Party to help build the new, democratic, progressive party. These state Green parties, along with the new state parties created for Nader-Gonzalez ballot access, would provide the basis for a new party founded on the principle of one-person, one-vote.

On the other hand, Cynthia McKinney is in a unique position. She has the admiration of most Greens, including most Nader supporters. Once McKinney is nominated, she should bring her ‘Power to the People’ campaign inside the Green Party itself and insist that the National Committee enact a one-person, one-vote method of selecting presidential delegates in the future. If she does so, she may save the party’s unity. At this point, she is the only one who can.

  1. Source for Table 1, “Green Voters and Delegates by State”:

    The number of Greens voting and delegate counts come from Table 2 in “Green Party of the U.S. 2008 Presidential Nomination Race So Far: Popular Vote & Delegates Won”, June 7, 2008. The number of Greens voting in New Jersey, however, comes from item #17 in Appendix 4 in the same document. #

  2. The following calculations were made from the data in Table 1:

    CA+IL+MA+AR+DC: (41,825 voters/268 delegates)=156 voters/delegate Other 16 states: (1,069 voters/227 delegates)=5 voters/delegate #

  3. Source for Table 2, “Green Presidential Popular Vote & Delegates Won”:

    Popular vote and percent come from Table 1, delegates and percent come from Table 2, in “Green Party of the U.S. 2008 Presidential Nomination Race So Far: Popular Vote & Delegates Won”, June 7, 2008. #

Chuck Giese has voted Green for many years, and finally registered as a Green voter in California in 2004. He resides in Fremont, California. He may be contacted at: Read other articles by Chuck.

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