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Libertarians? Greens? Lock ’em Out!

The 2014 midterm elections seem to be bigger than prior years with more ads, robo-calls, and social media posts. During this turmoil, I learned a number of new things about the leading political parties that disgust me. At the top of this list was the Republicans’ and Democrats’ efforts at controlling access to the ballot.

The idea of “ballot access” control is that third parties will undercut votes from the “Big 2″ parties. Specifically, the belief is that a vote for the Libertarian party is likely one less vote for the Republicans; likewise, the Democrats could lose votes to Green candidates. So, the story goes, its in the best interest of the two predominant parties to restrict other parties from being present on the ballot at all.

I first learned of this issue while reading about Ben Koyl, the Libertarian candidate for Illinois Attorney General. Koyl highlights this as one of his four primary platform points. His stated goal is “Ballot Access for All Political Parties and Equal Access to Government for All”. Within these slides I learned a quite-horrifying story about the GOP sending an armed man to intimidate poll workers into falsely admitting to petition fraud. If this were to happen, the Libertarian’s ballot access petition would be discarded, which would fulfill the GOP’s desire to restrict Libertarians’ presence on the ballot. Luckily, the intimidation attempt failed, but still… Scary!

In learning more about this political maneuver, I discovered that Democrats aren’t totally innocent here either; apparently the Democratic Cook County Recorder of Deeds challenged 12,000 of the Green party’s votes. The Dems don’t have a valid basis for objection but are fighting regardless. Rather than try to complete the legal process for verifying all 12,000 of the challenged signatures, the Green party decided to file a lawsuit fighting the ballot access process itself. Unfortunately, this was immediately dismissed and the Green party was excluded from the ballot. Boo!

The underlying problem here is the ballot access process itself, which is what the Green party’s lawsuit was targeting.

  1. to be on the ballot, a “new party” (which is any party which didn’t receive at least 5% of the popular vote in the previous election) must circulate petitions requiring 25,000 signatures for access to the ballot.
  2. a “new party” must have a candidate for each open position, called a “full slate,” in order to access the ballot; this may not be feasible for all new parties and, in any case, limits access to running for certain positions independently.
  3. this ballot access petition will almost certainly be challenged and legal proceedings undertaken to verify the signatures are registered voters in the correct voting district; this must be complete within 90 days.
  4. the costs for circulating the petition and partaking in the legal proceedings from the challenge are likely to be more than minor parties and individuals can easily bear.

The Green party’s lawsuit which was dismissed considers several aspects of this process unconstitutional. For example, if an incumbent in an elected position has no challengers, the “full slate” requirement effectively prevents others from running against the incumbent. This is the basis of the unconstitutionality claims.

The Illinois ballot access process is bad for Democracy. What can we do about this?

Posted in Commentary.

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