The Wild Wild West of Ballot Access

On Monday, Sept. 24, a planned gathering of third party representatives stood outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. They were hoping to catch some media attention as they extolled the merits of the Justices hearing the case, Rogers Vs. Cortes.

Quickly, however, Capitol police moved this peaceful yet vocal group off the steps of the Supreme Court Building. “An incident,” Green Party of US Political Director, Brent McMillan was told by an officer as the group was urged away. But even the sidewalk was too close; this time, an officer with his dog came forward to tell the group to move across the street.

Once the minor parties group had reassembled across the streets, the “incident” cleared up. “Apparently,” said McMillan, ” we were the incident.”

The case in question is Rogers vs. Cortes, docket #06-1721. Cortes is Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Rogers is an attorney from York who ran for State Attorney General as a Green in 2004 and Governor in 2006; she is the lead plaintiff in the current federal case against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania alleging unequal treatment of minor political parties to ballot access in Pennsylvania.

At first glance, this might just sound like a bunch of whiny liberal losers. But wait… while a Democrat or Republican need only get 2000 signatures to qualify for their Primary Ballot Line in Pennsylvania, third parties and Independents are required to attain 67,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot. The authenticity of these signatures is often disputed by one of the major parties, who are better funded and more able to put up a legal fight. In this Pennsylvania case, it was the Democratic Party. The court unceremoniously tossed out all signatures, slandered the candidates and levied fines of as much as $80,000 (see also Ralph Nader and Carl Romanelli).

Upholding the decision by the PA State Attorney General means finding the plaintiffs guilty of fraud and liable for the fines placed upon them. This targeted assault and verdict would chill any attempt by a third party candidate in the future.

D.C. was once a more tolerant town, like during those Clinton years, when it just wouldn’t be a normal day without someone speaking out. But protesters have lost the tolerance of the administraion and just not considered quaint anymore. This administration has authorized tighter control on just where and who can exercise their freedom to congregate and speak.

Members of Code Pink recently experienced “incident” removal in the Capitol. It was a lovely afternoon. People basked in the early autumn air listening to a shockingly-pink clad woman reading that ole’ favorite, The Constitution of the United States. Not far away a group of “patriots” listened to Senators Mc Cain and Lieberman offer keen ideas about the war. Seems like the park just wasn’t big enough for the two groups and members of the peacefully active Pink Code were arrested.

After being chased from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court and having a police dog heel them across the street instead, speakers at the Ballot Access Rally continued to deliver their message. The Court will announce its decision whether or not it will hear the case on Monday, Oct. 1, 2007. The following is a speech given by Brent Mc Millan, Political Director of Green Party of the United States (gpus.org).


September 24, 2007


Speech Given my Brent McMillan, Director of the Green Party of the United States at a Ballot Access Rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Sept. 24. (Permission to reprint was given by its author).

Clingman vs. Beaver

In January of 2005 the high court heard oral argument on the case of Clingman vs. Beaver. The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma argued to open up its primary to include those registered in other parties. At issue was an Oklahoma statute that forbade a party from opening up its primary elections to registered members of other parties but allowed parties to conduct semi-closed primaries, in which independents could vote.

Basically the State of Oklahoma argued that it’s in the interest of the stability of the state to only have two political parties.

The Two-Party System and Political Stability

A driving force behind the Court’s willingness to uphold ballot-access restrictions has been its perception of third parties as a threat to political stability. A solid majority of the courts shares the belief that third parties, if allowed easy access to the ballot, may destabilize the political system. In contrast, the Court views major political parties as the basis of stable politics. Recent cases are replete with praise for the stabilizing function of the major parties and the two-party system.

To understand why the current Court is so favorable to major-party organizations, we must look to its understanding of the role of these organizations in the democratic process. Upon examination, it becomes clear that the Court envisions the major parties as critical buffers between the individual and the State.
They believe that the major parties protect the smooth functioning of government against the discord of pluralist and populist politics. Thus the Courts values major parties primarily as the guardians of political stability.

Is it Working?

Exit polling from the 2006 Election showed that the three most important interests for American Voters are (Zogby):

  1. Ending the War in Iraq
  2. Global Warming
  3. Universal Health Care

Basically neither of the major parties represents the three most important issues of the American People.

The Role of Third Parties in American Politics

So what is the role of third parties in American Politics? When the major parties veer too far from the will of the American People third parties step up to champion these issues. Sometimes they end up replacing a major party such as the Republican Party on the issue of abolishing slavery. Other times a major party may pick up their issue(s) and the third party will no longer be relevant. Examples include Women’s Suffrage, Social Security, The Weekend, the ending of Child Labor, etc.

Clamping down the Lid and Turning up the Heat

In the 1970’s the major parties began to make ballot access more difficult for Independent and Third Party Candidates. At the same time, they began straying further and further from the will of the American People. They are working to put greater limits on the People’s ability to hold them accountable. Instead they serve the interests of the Financial Elites. This has resulted in a decline of the overall quality of life for most Americans. On the other hand our rate of Incumbency is higher than that of the Communist Party in the Old Soviet Union.

The Cradle of Democracy is becoming the Graveyard of Democracy

Last year we saw the beginning of something that shocked and angered anyone paying attention. The Common Wealth of Pennsylvania decided to hold candidates personally, financial accountable for the cost of a ballot access challenge if they failed to prevail. This has a bone chilling affect on independent and third party candidates from seeking office. Marakay Rodgers was financially intimidated from running for office. She was the Green Party Candidate for Governor in Pennsylvania in 2006. We have to see this effort reversed and squashed. The people behind this are the ones who need to be held accountable for their egregious actions.

Carl Romanelli, the Green Party Candidate for US Senate in 2006 decided to stay the course and weather the Democrats attempt at financial intimidation.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently affirmed a Commonwealth Court order directing Ralph Nader to pay more than $80,000 to Democratic challengers who successfully removed his name from the ballot during the 2004 presidential election. The court’s rationale was that “massive” fraud infected Nader’s submission of 52,000 voters’ signatures-more than twice the number needed to access the ballot. Nader could thus equitably be required to pay for the transcripts and writing experts needed to prove the Democrats’ case.

International Human Rights Violation

What happened in Pennsylvania is now considered by the International Community to be a human rights violation. (Helsinki Court)

Ballot Access is the Wild West of Law

The high court is vulnerable in its history of decisions in regards to ballot access. It has been
consistently inconsistent. In Rodgers vs. Cortez there is an opportunity for the Court to do the right thing and to look out for the interests of the American People. Isn’t it time to move the issue of Ballot Access into the twenty-first century? .not the nineteenth.”

REFERENCES

Boston Law Review: A Second Look at Third Parties: Correcting the Supreme Court’s Understanding of Elections
http://www.bu.edu/law/lawreview/v85n5/Evseev.pdf

Zogby Post-Election Poll
http://www.zogby.com/search/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1194

Politics in Pennsylvania: Putting an end to Ralph Nader and Open Ballots
http://www.votenader.org/contribute/index.php?cid=118

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