Regulating Political Parties in Your State

As Insights author Richard Hardy explains in “Paradoxes of Political Parties in American Constitutional Development,” regulations of political parties are typically found at the state level and vary from state to state. In this activity, students read a press release about political party nomination policies in the state of Washington and then analyze their own state constitutions and statutes to discuss political party regulation in their own state.

Materials

  • LPWA Suit Press Release
  • Copy of or access to your state’s constitution
  • Copy of or access to major and minor party regulations for your state, typically found at the Secretary of State or State Legislative websites

Procedure

1. Distribute and ask students to read the “LPWA Suit Press Release,” which details a lawsuit filed in August 2012 by the Libertarian Party of Washington State against the state’s Republican Party. The Libertarian Party claims that the Republican Party did not follow proper nominating procedures under Washington state law, thereby forfeiting their “major party” status in the state, and losing the opportunity to print a candidate on the ballot for the November election.

2. Discuss the release with students:

  • What is this press release about?
  • Who are the parties involved in the lawsuit? What rules are the Libertarian Party accusing the Republican Party of violating?
  • What are possible consequences of this lawsuit?
  • What happened to the lawsuit? Why do you think this happened?

Note that the lawsuit was thrown out of court in August 2012, with the judge reasoning that the law being challenged was part of a set of primary rules that were effectively repealed in 2006 when the state adopted a new system. The judge also explained that political parties in the state may decide how to nominate their own candidates.

3. Draw students’ attention to the press release’s mention of state laws that govern political parties. Mention that some states establish laws that govern political parties, including requiring parties to register with the state, and certain criteria by which parties are classified as either “major” or “minor” parties. Explain that you will explore the laws in your state governing political parties.

4. Distribute copies of your state’s constitution. In small groups, ask students to study the document and look for any mention of political parties. As a class, make a list of, and discuss, political party references in your state constitution, if any.

5. Distribute copies of your state’s political party regulations. Ask the groups to read some of the requirements for political parties in your state and then discuss the following questions:

  • Were regulations of political parties in your state found in the state constitution or state statutes, or both?
  • What are some of the requirements for starting a political party in your state?
  • Why do you think these regulations are in place? Are they fair or adequate? Why or why not?
  • Does your state distinguish between “major” and “minor” political parties? What are the differences between the two?
  • Do candidates in the general election in your state need to declare a political party?

6. Wrap up discussion, or consider an extended activity to encourage further exploration.

Extended Activities

1. Students might research what political parties are registered in your state. How many major and minor parties are registered? How many members do the parties have? Students might produce a chart or infographic depicting the information that they find.

2. Research when and where your state’s political party conventions take place. Consider visiting a convention, watching via video, or inviting a delegate to your classroom to discuss their experiences.

3. Students might read two different political party platforms from your state, focusing on one or more specific issues, and then answer the following questions: (a) What were the main points in your state party platforms? (b) What questions do you have for the parties after reading their platforms? (c) How were the two state party platforms similar or different from one another?

4. Ask students to select another country (ex. Mexico, Canada) in the world to research what political parties exist in that country. How does the country’s political system compare to that of the United States? How does that political system shape politics and government in that country?

 

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Insights on Law and Society is edited by Tiffany Middleton. She can be reached at tiffany.middleton@americanbar.org.