IndyTruth Blog
A duopoly on politics keeps candidates off your ballot 
Tuesday, July 29, 2008, 03:51 AM - Elections, News, Opinion, Policy
Posted by Administrator
America's first President George Washington said that political parties "serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests."

President Washington would be disappointed to see the state of American politics today. Two huge political parties hold a near unanimous majority of political offices in America. Only one of our one hundred Senators is an independent (Joe Lieberman), and he is only identified that way because he lost a Democratic primary and ran as an independent (although a Democratic incumbent) against the nominee who beat him. The Democratic and Republican parties control the choice of Americans by offering only one or two choices on an issue, while there are really many more options that must be considered. Often, neither party considers whether or not a decision is constitutional, but the two simply debate about specific aspects of the decision. What is most devastating of all, these two parties have held their duopoly on American politics for so long that they have arranged a system where no citizens from outside their clubs may contest them.

Ballot Access News reported Monday that "Alabama is almost certain to be the only state with no independent or minor party candidates on the ballot this year, for any federal or state office other than president." Darryl W. Perry, who is running as a write-in candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, explained in an interview with me on the IndyTruth Show that the state required him to obtain 37,513 verified signatures of registered voters by June 3, 2008 to get himself on the ballot for Senate. The mp3 of the show including that interview is available here.

What is unusual about the ballot access laws in Alabama is that it only takes 5,000 signatures to get on the ballot for President, even though it takes a much larger number for other statewide elections. Andy Shugart, who is running for U.S. House as an independent in Alabama's 6th congressional district, discovered that 6,155 signatures are required in his district. The U.S. Supreme Court actually ruled in the 1979 case of Illinois State Board of Elections v Socialist Workers Party that "it is unconstitutional for a state to require more signatures for a candidate running for an office that covers just part of the state, than that same state requires for an independent candidate running for statewide office." Therefore, Alabama's ballot access requirements are unconstitutional and illegal.

We face a similar situation here in Indiana. Over the past 75 years, the Democratic and Republican parties that have dominated the state government have increased the signature requirements for state-wide ballot access 64-fold, from 500 signatures in 1933 to 32,741 in 2008. The signature requirement is currently calculated as two percent of the total votes cast in the most recent election for Secretary of State, currently 32,741 signatures.

If a "minor party" candidate can collect enough signatures to get on the ballot for Secretary of State, he can earn statewide ballot access for his party by receiving at least two percent of the vote in the election. The Libertarian Party accomplished this in 1996 and has held on to it since then. They and the two other "major parties" only need to turn in a form to get their candidates on the ballot.

If an independent or minor party candidate is running for another office, such as state representative, he must gather a number of signatures equal to two percent of the vote for Secretary of State in the most recent election in the district in which he is running. These requirements are often also unmanageable for minor parties. The Constitution Party and Green Party rarely run candidates for public office in the state of Indiana because they do not have statewide ballot access and it is expensive and time-consuming to petition for a candidate to get on the ballot. This year, Taxpayer's Party candidate John Waterman and independent Steve Bonney attempted to get on the ballot for governor, and both failed to get the 32,741 signature requirement by the June 30th deadline.

Independent candidate Ralph Nader and Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin did not attempt Indiana ballot access for their 2008 presidential campaigns. The signature requirements were simply unrealistic for them to attain. The Green Party did not nominate its presidential ticket until July, after the June 30th deadline for ballot access petitions in Indiana, so Cynthia McKinney was unable to attempt ballot access here. These three candidates will be on the ballot in most states, enough to win the election. However, none could dream of a spot on the ballot in Indiana this year.

Ballot Access News reports that ten more parties will hold nominating conventions in August and September. Eight of them will not have the opportunity to attempt ballot access for their candidates in Indiana and many other states. The other two are the Democratic and Republican parties, which have very late conventions but are not subject to the same requirements as minor parties.

It is clear that the system for getting candidates on the ballot for elections is unconstitutional and discriminatory. The Republican and Democratic parties, who happen to have crafted the requirements, are not subject to the same rules as most other parties. Minor parties spend resources on petitioning which major parties are not required to do. If a party wants to gain statewide ballot access, it must "put all its eggs into one basket." A minor party could otherwise devote the resources used to attempt two percent of the vote for Secretary of State to candidates that have a better chance of winning in races for smaller offices. These factors put minor parties at a significant disadvantage against major parties in the state of Indiana. We must change these unconstitutional requirements so that Indiana voters have the choices they deserve when they go the polls.
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