State Report NH 5: New Hampshire Report 5: Towards Victory
Towards Victory: A Strategy for Achieving a Libertarian Caucus
By Keith Murphy
The author has directly managed nine campaigns for state legislative office in Maryland, resulting in six victories. In addition, he has consulted for numerous local races in Baltimore City. These services have included all aspects of campaign management, from analyzing district demographics and voter files to fundraising to production of literature and signs to organizing volunteers and door-to-door. He is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to put this experience to work for those who share his political viewpoints, in the free state.
As covered in the companion report Examining Population and Political Accessibility, New Hampshire offers a unique combination of election laws, from a low ballot access requirement to town-meeting local government to an elected Governor's Council that will allow us to affect the executive branch without electing a governor. More importantly, New Hampshire is the only state that offers large multi-member districts. This advantage, combined with fusion, provides a unique opportunity the rapid election of a Libertarian Caucus in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. This opportunity is detailed here.
The term "fusion" refers to the practice of a candidate for office running under multiple parties simultaneously. This allows third-party candidates to borrow the credibility of a major party, capture the straight-ticket votes of the major party, and be included on the literature of the major party. Candidates in New Hampshire and Vermont regularly utilize fusion. The laws of Maine, Delaware, Idaho, and South Dakota appear to allow fusion, but the practice is not part of the political culture. As a result, an attempt to use fusion in those states would likely require at least an attorney general's opinion.
The legislature of most states is made up of single-member districts, in which each citizen has only one representative. South Dakota, North Dakota, and Idaho all have two-member districts, meaning that citizens each get two votes and have two representatives. For very large, rural areas sometimes the larger two-member districts will be broken into two sub-districts, where each citizen has one vote and one representative. Vermont's largest chamber is composed of both single-member and two-member districts.
New Hampshire is different. The state constitution provides that towns may not be divided between districts without their consent. As each district must provide substantially equal representation to the population, and New Hampshire varies wildly in density from town to town, the resulting district map is a hodgepodge. Some districts are single-member, with approximately 3,089 citizens apiece, and some are multi-member, with as many as fourteen representatives. The majority of districts have between three and six representatives.
When fusion and large multi-member districts are present in the same state, as they are only in New Hampshire, the result is a spectacular opportunity.
How it Works
In the larger multi-member districts, the major parties often cannot find enough candidates to run for all the seats. After all, being state representative is a part-time job that only pays $100 per year, so politics is not the full-time profession in New Hampshire that it is in other states. But each citizen gets as many votes as there are seats, and if they do not have an equal number of candidates in their party to vote for as there are seats, those "extra" votes are wasted. Those votes could be ours. Here's how:
Let's suppose Marjorie Smith is a Libertarian considering a run for the statehouse in her six-seat district. She goes down to the town hall the day after the filing deadline, and sees that while six Democrats filed for the primary, only three Republicans did so. The fact that one of the major parties did not field as many candidates as there are seats means that this district qualifies for the fusion strategy.
So Marjorie asks for and is given a voter checklist, and begins her door-to-door campaign. She spends a few hundred dollars printing up yard signs and small brochures, and devotes her evenings to walking through the district. She knocks on each door and talks to each resident for just a moment, saying "I'm Marjorie Smith, and I'm running for the state house. I won't be on the primary, but I would appreciate your vote in the general."
But at the homes of registered Independents or Republicans, discernable from the checklist, she modifies her introduction slightly. She says, "I'm Marjorie Smith, and I'm running for the statehouse. If you're voting as a Republican in this year's primary, you're going to get six votes, but there's only three Republicans on the ballot. I would really appreciate it if you used one of your extra votes to write my name in." This could even be done outside the polling place on primary day.
If just ten people, do this, then Marjorie will appear on the ballot in the general election as a "Libertarian-Republican." In the event that not enough Democrats or Republicans signed up for the primary, then she would appear as a "Libertarian-Republican-Democrat." When you are a fusion candidate, you receive the votes from the straight-ticket voters, and the major parties put your name on their literature.
This strategy has an astounding success rate. The major parties failed to each nominate enough people for all the seats in the New Hampshire House 59 times in the 2002 election. 59 Republicans and Democrats went out and asked voters of the other party to write their name in on the primary. In the 2003 session there were 59 Republican-Democrats and Democratic-Republicans sitting in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Just to be clear, every single candidate that used the fusion strategy last year won election. It worked, every single time. 59 for 59. This is exactly how we can and will have a Libertarian Caucus in the New Hampshire House of Representatives after the 2004 elections.
Incidentally, the six-seat district described above is not hypothetical. District 72, in Strafford County, consists of the towns of Durham, Lee, and Madbury. Three Republicans and six Democrats filed for the primary. Smith won election as a Democrat, coming in third. She, and the two who received more votes than she did, all were elected using fusion. 4,855 voters walked into the booth, and 4,173 of them gave her one of their votes. The two other fusion candidates, Wall and Kaen, received 4,533 and 4,226, respectively. The fourth-ranked winner, who did not use fusion, only received 3,429, 24.35% less than the leading fusion winner.
New Hampshire's political system offers access unparalleled by any of the other candidate states. The local elections are mostly nonpartisan, the local government is administered at the town level instead of the county level, citizens essentially have line-item veto authority of their town budget at the polls, the first-in-the-nation presidential primary garners national headlines, and there is an elected Executive Council with incredible control over state spending. But most importantly, New Hampshire offers fusion in combination with large multi-member districts. This strategy has an amazing success rate, virtually guaranteeing a quick series of victories in races for the state legislature. New Hampshire is the only state in the nation with this advantage.