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Our Opinion: Third-party picks are earning a place on Tar Heel ballots

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Tar Heels will have a fourth political party to choose from when updating their voter registration, and some North Carolina voters will see a new candidate designation on their ballots this fall.

By unanimous vote, the new nine-member State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement chose Tuesday to recognize the Green Party in North Carolina. The Greens applied for recognition under a new state law extending ballot access to political parties listed on ballots in 70 percent of U.S. states in the most recent presidential election.

That means voters now have five registration options — Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green and unaffiliated. It also allows Green Party candidates to file for office and appear on November ballots. Party members will nominate their candidates in a convention in lieu of holding primaries this year.

Whether you love, hate or have never heard of the Green Party, its inclusion is good news for democracy. Like-minded people banding together under a common banner and working to effect change is, after all, what America is all about.

“Opening up the ballot is good for North Carolina and will help to reinvigorate the political process,” Tony Ndege, state party co-chairman, said in a news release. “People have given up on the two-party system, and too many voters stay home on Election Day. The largest party right now is the disaffected American — people are hungry for real grassroots participation in politics and in their communities. The North Carolina Green Party looks forward to giving people a reason to engage and fight for the future that we all deserve.”

North Carolina has Jill Stein to thank for the expansion of choice voters will now enjoy. A doctor and medical school professor, Stein was the Green Party’s 2016 presidential candidate. She benefited from voters’ flirtation with third-party candidates due to dissatisfaction with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican standard-bearer and eventual President Donald Trump.

Polling as high as 7 percent at early- to mid-stages of the campaign, Stein was a balloted candidate in 45 states and received nearly 1½ million votes, topping the Green Party’s three previous presidential efforts combined.

Libertarian Gary Johnson, the other minor-party hopeful, drew just under 4.5 million votes, about 3.27 percent of U.S. ballots cast, crushing the Libertarian Party’s record for presidential performance. He was on the ballot in all 50 states.

Johnson polled as high as 13 percent and was considered a bona fide third-party threat until debate moderators denied him a place on the stage and a series of gaffes in televised interviews dampened his momentum.

The Green Party is a self-described progressive group whose name reflects its focus on environmental issues. Its 10 key values include ecological wisdom, nonviolence, decentralization of wealth and power, future focus and sustainability and personal and global responsibility. The Greens eschew corporate campaign contributions and political action committees and encourage grassroots activism.

Some Democrats fear the far-left Green Party could play the role of spoiler and siphon off some of its more progressive voters, just as Republicans fret about losing small-government conservatives to the Libertarian and Constitution parties. Traditionally, third parties face ballot access hurdles because the Ds and Rs in power would rather divide the Election Day pie between themselves than carve out more and smaller slices.

We’ve always said more choices are better than fewer choices, and we welcome the Green Party’s addition to North Carolina’s political landscape. We’d like to see even more political parties in the mix.

In the same vein, our state should stop punishing independents by requiring them to petition for ballot access. Collecting thousands or tens of thousands of signatures is a high hurdle that prevents otherwise qualified unaffiliated candidates from putting themselves forward for public service.

Unaffiliated is a catchall category for voters who are not a member of a recognized party. That designation is No. 2 in North Carolina voter registrations — behind Democrats and ahead of Republicans and Libertarians. Though unaffiliated voters don’t comprise a political party, if they did, that formidable voting bloc would immediately become a contender.

North Carolina should add an unaffiliated primary to its May election schedule, allowing any qualified candidate to compete against fellow independents for a spot on the general election ballot.

While the game’s still rigged and the playing field’s still tilted toward the two major parties, giving Greens a place at the table is a quantum leap forward for political choice.

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