Git Off Mah Ballot!

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The Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky has a sympathetic portrait of an Illinois Green Party candidate up, in an article about the way the two parties muscle third parties off the ballot.

Just to be on the safe side, [Green candidate Kathy] Cummings submitted 3,494 signatures to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners on June 26. The Democrats quickly counterattacked: on July 3 Guadalupe Miranda, Soto's secretary, challenged the veracity of 2,440 signatures on Cummings's nominating petitions. To help push the case, Michael Kasper, the state Democratic Party's election-law wizard, was brought in.

For the first round of the challenge–the so-called binder check–Kasper, Cummings, and a hearing officer sat in a warehouselike room in a downtown county building for about a week, reviewing hundreds of nominating petitions. According to Kasper, the majority of the signatures on Cummings's petitions failed to match the signatures on the voter registration cards. He convinced the hearing officer to knock just shy of 2,000 signatures from her petitions and remove Cummings from the ballot.

This story could have been written in almost every state; every two years, connected lawyers make pretty good money purging third parties from the ballot (there are exceptions in states like California, where it's ridiculously easy to make the ballot). The most explosive case this year is in Pennsylvania, where the clever Rick Santorum campaign funded a dim-bulb Green candidate for Senate to help him on the ballot and spoil the chances of Democrat Bob Casey. (Pennsylvania wags tell me the Green will probably get pushed off the ballot anyway due to petition fraud.)

The Libertarian party is usually immune to the chicanery, for two reasons. One, the party is so well-established in most states that it doesn't need to constantly re-petition for the ballot. Two, it's rarely clear which party the LP is "stealing" from, so the parties don't risk propping up a spoiler. In Washington state's 2000 election, Republicans (like National Review writer John J. Miller) claimed Libertarian Jeff Jared had spoiled the election for Republican Slade "best senator's name ever" Gorton. This year, Republicans are hoping anti-war libertarian Bruce Guthrie will steal votes from the pro-Iraq war Democrat who won that year, Maria Cantwell.

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  1. A better Washington state example is the way Ruth Bennett (L) may have helped Christine Gregoire (D) squeak ahead of Dino Rossi (GOP-Lite) in the 2004 gubernatorial recount recount.

  2. Jim – Actually, most experts agreed that Bennett almost handed Rossi the election. She ran on a vocal pro-gay marriage platform that Republicans promoted as a way of weakening Gregoire’s liberal support.

  3. The GOP incumbent in my district just knocked the Libertarian opponent, pulling a whopping 2.4% in polls, off the ballot.

    Click my name and scroll down for the story.

  4. Why does any candidate have to jump through any hoops in the first place? Shouldn’t establishing your citizenship and any other requirements established in the Constitution be enough to allow you to run?

  5. I’ve been involved in two LP-related ballot drive. One was to get a city-wide candidate on a non-partisan ballot, requiring ~1,500-2,000 names. The other was the 1988 Ron Paul campaign, where we gathered 10,000+ sigs to get the congressman on the Presidential ballot as an independent, since our local LP didn’t have continuing ballot status back then. One can gather bullet-proof signatures, but it takes a lot more work than standing outside the entrance to the local grocery store with a clipboard. One thing that helped is that, in the local race we had a core of volunteers who could be counted on to do the work, so we didn’t have to pay petitioners. For the Prez run we had a mix of veterans of the local ballot drive who had learned the rules and the tricks, LP activists in the rest of the state who were themselves experienced petitioners or willing to follow their lead, and Ron Paul fans unconnected to the LP who mailed in lists they circulated among like-minded individuals. We avoided challenges because the local pols knew from experience that our state and local LP always turned in good lists, so they would be wasting their resources if they challenged.

    I wouldn’t put it past Cook County pols to tell their minions to seek out minor party petitioners and deliberately pollute their lists by signing with junk names and addresses.

    If you want to get a candidate on the ballot, seek out someone well-versed in the local rules before you start, and follow the plan religiously. If we had come up a few sigs short of getting Dr. Paul on the ballot I would have felt like a complete idiot for wasting all the volunteers’ time and contributors’ money to no effect. That’s to say nothing of depriving the electorate of the LP choice.

    Kevin
    (“retired” from LP activism. Unless you are offering to pay…)

  6. You’d think the Republicans and Democrats would have enough confidence in their own public support that they wouldn’t try to block minor parties from getting on ballots.

  7. “Slade “best senator’s name ever” Gorton”

    Best ever? Lauch Faircloth, Powhatan Ellis, Hernando De Soto Money, Styles Bridges, Person Cheney, Bainbridge Wadleigh and Leverett Saltonstall all beat Slade Gorton, but the best Senator’s name ever is Furnifold McLendel Simmons.

  8. I object to your description of Slade Gordon as having the “best senator’s name ever.” You apparently are unacquainted with former Iowa Senator Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper.

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