JLF Memo
Mar. 18th, 2011: - johnlocke.org

Featured Article

Ballot Access Laws Undermine the Right to Vote
By Daren Bakst

When you go to the polls in North Carolina, you have less freedom to choose who you want to elect than citizens of virtually every other state. A recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision will continue to restrict our electoral freedom. However, the state legislature is considering a bill that would protect our rights.

Under current law, for a political party to get its candidates on the ballot, it must obtain signatures equivalent to 2 percent of the number of individuals who voted in the previous gubernatorial election. This would amount to about 85,000 signatures.

If the party's candidate receives 2 percent of the statewide vote in the election, the party won't be required to gather the signatures for the next election. If the candidate doesn't receive the 2 percent, the political party would have to go through the arduous process of acquiring signatures again.

Except for two other states, North Carolina has the most restrictive ballot access laws for political parties. This 85,000 number is draconian compared to most states. Thirty-three states require 10,000 signatures or fewer to secure ballot access.

North Carolina also makes it more difficult than most states when it comes to allowing independent candidates for Congress to gain access to the ballot. In fact, there's never been an independent candidate for Congress on the state-printed ballot. The state-printed ballot is more than 100 years old and came into existence in 1901.

Fortunately, there are efforts to make it reasonable for smaller parties and independent candidates to appear on the ballot. Legislation called the Electoral Reform Act of 2011 has been introduced in the state House and Senate. The law would lower the number of signatures required to gain ballot access to 10,000.

This law is even more important now that the North Carolina Supreme Court recently held that the extreme ballot access laws are constitutional.

In defending the law, the Court explained that the law wasn't too severe since the Libertarian Party was able to secure the necessary 69,734 signatures for the 2008 election.

The Court defended the law and, as a result, punished smaller parties because some very committed citizens overcame incredible obstacles. Just because the mandate isn't impossible to overcome doesn't mean it isn't an unreasonable and unconstitutional burden.

The Court also failed to recognize that the time and money spent collecting signatures takes away from much-needed time for other endeavors. Instead of raising money and getting ready for the election, smaller political parties have to divert their efforts to ensure they can just be a part of the election.

There also was no concern for the numerous parties who weren't able to meet these incredibly stringent requirements. The Green Party, for example, has never met the requirements under the law.

Now that the Court has failed to protect our freedoms, only the state legislature can protect citizens. For nearly 50 years, from 1935 through 1981, the state legislature required 10,000 signatures. The proposed law would simply go back to this more reasonable number.

There's a need for some ballot access protections. North Carolina doesn't want frivolous candidates on the ballot nor does it want a ballot that has an excessive number of candidates. However, protection from these problems can be achieved without being so extreme.

Another major argument for the ballot access law is to prevent voter confusion that could arise from having too many candidates on the ballot. Unless you believe that citizens in most other states are smarter than North Carolinians, this isn't much of an argument. There's no evidence of rampant confusion in elections connected to the length of ballots in those other states.

North Carolinians should be able to join together with like-minded individuals to form political parties that can have their candidates appear on the ballot. Freedom of association is being trampled on if these candidates can't reasonably get on the ballot.

Individuals should be able to vote for the candidates they support. When candidates aren't on ballots because of extreme laws, the right to vote is weakened. A system where only the two major parties, with limited exceptions, can ever have access to the ballot is not a legitimate system of voting. The biased system, in essence, is pre-selecting candidates before citizens even go to the polls.

The state legislature has a chance to protect the rights of candidates who want to be considered for elected office and the rights of citizens to freely elect candidates who they support. The legitimacy of elections has frequently been in the news. There's no more important issue that making sure the state isn't taking action to block the public from electing their candidates.

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