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Election chief's comments anger upstart Massachusetts third party

The founder of a new Massachusetts third party has called on the state’s top elections official to resign for comments criticizing the value of third parties.

Evan Falchuk, the chairman and founder of the centrist United Independent Party, told AMI Newswire that the party’s membership, which now stands at 25,000, needs to swell to 43,000 by mid-October in order for the party to qualify for future ballots. The 43,000 threshold represents 1 percent of registered voters in the state.

But the party has gotten a cold shoulder from Secretary of State William Galvin, who has told voters not to waste their votes on third parties, Falchuk said. Galvin, a Democrat, has also said that he’s troubled that the state expects to spend $58,000 on ballots to accommodate a single United Independent Party candidate for the state legislature for the Sept. 8 primary and the general election.

“He hasn’t made any secret of his hostility as to what we’re doing,” Falchuk said. “He seems to view the existence of another party in Massachusetts as some sort of personal inconvenience.”

Brian McNiff, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, told AMI that Galvin’s statements about third parties have not become an issue or a point of concern for the office.

But the office has gotten emails from citizens who mistakenly registered with the United Independent Party but thought that they were registering as “independent” or “unenrolled” voters, McNiff said. In Massachusetts, unenrolled voters are allowed to vote in the presidential primaries of any registered party.

As a result, the Secretary of State’s Office sent out letters to registered UIP voters prior to the state’s March presidential primary saying that they could change their enrollment in order to vote in the presidential primary. The letters irked Falchuk, whose party didn’t field a presidential candidate, because they referred to the UIP as a “minor political party.”

The party chairman also said he’s heard from citizens who attempted to register for the UIP but were eventually mistakenly classified by the Secretary of State’s Office as “unenrolled.”

"The staff at the Secretary of State's Office has been professional and helped us address these issues," he said. "It's the secretary of state himself that has been difficult, particularly in public and in the message that is sent to (city and town) clerks."

Falchuk launched the party, which he labels as “fiscally sensible and socially liberal,” in 2013 in response to a lack of competitive races in the state. In two-thirds of state legislative races, Democrats face no competition, he said, and UIP wants to field authentic candidates who speak their minds rather than cogs in a party machine.

Noting that Massachusetts has a long history of Democrats being in control, Falchuk said the state GOP had already been on life support prior to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which effectively put it in its death throes.

But he did note that Massachusetts is unusual because 53 percent of voters are not registered Democrats or Republicans but unenrolled voters – the highest independent percentage in the country. Democrats represent 35 percent of registered voters and Republicans 11 percent.

“This is the ripest state for organizing a new party,” Falchuk said. “And that’s part of the reason for us having the success we’ve had.”

Creating a viable alternative to the two major parties remains an ambitious goal, however. At the federal level, only two officeholders – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Angus King of Maine – have characterized themselves as independents since the retirement of Connecticut's Joe Lieberman at the end of 2012. That’s two out of 535 federal lawmakers.

At the statehouse level, only 16 lawmakers nationwide are not aligned with the Democratic or Republican parties, according to Ballotpedia, an online nonprofit encyclopedia of U.S. elections and politics. That’s out of a total of 7,383 state lawmakers, reports the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Ballotpedia’s website has also identified 26 third parties that are active in at least one state.

The UIP has three candidates running for the state legislature in the September primary, though according to the party’s website two of them are write-ins. The party has five members who have been elected to local offices and has 10 city or town committees that are helping to build the party’s infrastructure, Falchuk said.

“You can see that our goal has always been long-term viability,” he said.

In addition, the party is working with independent parties in Oregon and Minnesota, which have political platforms similar to the UIP, Falchuk said. The UIP’s pragmatic positions include cutting health-care costs by ending monopolistic hospital mergers, zero-based budgeting, a sharp rise in home construction for the middle class and student debt relief.

The party is now growing by about 2,000 to 3,000 members per month, Falchuk said.