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As the co-chair of the Maricopa County Libertarian party, Debbie Norwitz is understandably upset when people talk about "the American two-party system." She knows better. She knows that there are Libertarians, Greens, New Alliancers, Natural Law devotees, independents and others out there struggling to "open people's minds" to the possibilities of democracy.
So Norwitz was distressed when she discovered that Kids Voting Arizona, a program sponsored by Arizona Public Service Company that's designed to boost voter participation and introduce schoolchildren to the process, was using a ballot that includes only Democratic and Republican candidates in most races. Norwitz says she called the Kids Voting office for an explanation and was politely told that in an attempt to simplify the ballot, the ballot committee--a group of nine nonpartisan representatives of organizations such as the League of Women Voters and the PTA--decided to include only major-party candidates in most races. She says they also told her space on the ballot was a consideration.
Norwitz wasn't satisfied.
"Even when there are only two people running and one of them may be an independent or of another party, it will say 'no candidate,' and list the Democrat or Republican," she says. "It's absolutely, incredibly unfair to everyone, including the children."
For instance, Norwitz says, in the race for state mining inspector, Republican Doug Martin faces no Democratic opposition, so "no candidate" is listed on the ballot opposite Martin's name.
But David Kuck, a Libertarian from Oracle, is running against Martin.
Similarly, even though both Gary Fallon and Lee Crosby have an outside shot at winning the District 24 race for the state House of Representatives, neither is listed on the Kids Voting ballot because neither has major-party backing.
Rick Tompkins, state chairman of the Libertarian party, has mixed feelings about the Kids Voting ballot. At least, he says, Kids Voting included Ross Perot, Libertarian Andre Marrou, New Alliance candidate Lenora Fulani and Natural Law nominee John Haeglin along with George Bush and Bill Clinton in the presidential race. They also included all candidates in the senate race.
"On the one hand, it's nice that they've finally seen fit to include us a little bit," Tompkins says. "But on the other hand, it really highlights their hypocrisy, all their silly excuses about space limitations. I wonder if they'd ever apply that to the two major parties. Unwittingly, I think, they're preventing people and kids from broadening their ways of thinking about the democratic process. We still have a ways to go to break the mindset that we have only two parties. The mold is cracking, but most of us are still stuck in a narrow focus." Lynne Adams, a spokeswoman for APS, says the ballot design was simplified for tabulation and design purposes, noting that it includes photographs of the presidential and senatorial candidates.
"The youngest children who'll be voting, the kindergarten through third graders, they really need those visual cues and that takes up a lot of space," she says.
Adams also provided a statement from Sandy Schwartz, the vice chairman of Kids Voting Arizona, addressing the Libertarian's concerns. It reads:
"Kids Voting Arizona is a nonprofit, nonpartisan program designed to teach Arizona's children about the democratic process and provide them with the voting experience. "An independent, nonpartisan ballot committee developed the Kids Voting Arizona ballot. The committee's policy is to include as many candidates as possible on the ballot. However, design limitations make it impossible to include all candidates for all races. Third-party candidates are included for the two major races voted on by the majority of the students.
"The Kids Voting Arizona ballot is designed to provide an enriching educational experience for Arizona's children. It is easy for children to read and understand, and economical to produce, distribute and tabulate. And, most important, it helps provide our kids with the kind of firsthand experience that builds lifelong voting habits.