Ridiculous USA Ballot Access Laws designed to discriminate against third partiesAmong the world's democracies, the United States has by far the worst ballot access situation. Each state writes its own ballot access laws, even for federal office. Sometimes these laws clearly are intentionally written to force one- or two-party domination. Since there is no single standard for the whole nation, the public and even the media are generally ignorant about ballot access laws.
- Georgia in 1943 required new party and independent candidates to submit a petition signed by 5% of the number of registered voters in order to get on the ballot for any office! Previously, any party could get on the ballot just by requesting it. (And all petition signers are subject to subpoena to determine if they actually signed.) Result: since 1943, zero third-party candidates have ever managed even to get on the ballot for a Georgia U.S. House of Representatives seat (in about 800 races total).
- The ballot access laws for third parties and independent candidates have been very severe since 1931. Since then only two third party candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and only one for the U.S. Senate have managed to get on the ballot. (And there has been no third party or independent candidate on the ballot for Governor of Florida since 1920.) As of 2005, a filing fee of 7% of the annual salary of the office is also required unless the candidate is a pauper, while a third party or independent candidate for any statewide office (other than US president) needs 196,255 valid signatures – beyond what any independent candidate in any state in the USA has ever obtained.
- To run for Texas Governor as an Independent in 2006, Richard S. "Kinky" Friedman had to acquire 45000 signatures in a short time, all of them notarized. He accomplished that, but found it almost impossible and claims it had never been done before.
- New parties, to get on ballot, require by 1971 law a petition signed by a number of voters exceeding 7% of the last vote cast. A court held that unconstitutional in 1977, so they changed it to 3%. Also, the petition must be completed in four months during the odd year before an election year. No political party has ever succeeded in getting on the Arkansas ballot, under either rule.
- West Virginia:
- This one is an elegant "catch-22." Third party and independent candidates for office (other than US president) must circulate their petition before the primary. It is a crime for any petition circulator to approach anyone without saying "If you sign my petition, you cannot vote in the primary." Furthermore, it is impossible for third party or independent candidates (not running for US president) to ever know in advance if they have enough valid signatures because if anyone who signs a candidate's petition then votes in a primary, the signature of that person is invalid. For candidates, it is impossible to know who will actually vote in the primary, and it is too late to get signatures after the primary. Also: petition circulators cannot leave their home precinct.
- 1961 law requires petition to be completed within a 2-week period.
- 1941 law requires all petition signers to be published in one newspaper in each county in the state, by the collector of the petitions.
- Richard Winger of Ballot Access News says, "Massachusetts ballot access procedures for members of small qualified parties to get on their own party's primary ballot are a disgrace, the worst in the nation. They are so bad, they even injure Republicans in MA. In 2008, out of the 10 U.S. House races in MA, there was no Republican in six of them."
"Sore loser laws" designed to foster major-party rule and prevent dissent
In 2006, nationwide attention was focused on the Democratic Party primary for the Connecticut senate race. Newcomer Ned Lamont beat out incumbent senator Joe Lieberman. Lieberman then decided to continue to run as an independent, leading to a 3-way race between Lamont(D), Lieberman(I) and Alan Schlesinger(R). This made it a "spoiler" scenario likely in which Lieberman and Lamont would split the vote allowing the Republican Schlesinger (who was less popular than either and had been involved in big money gambling under the fake name "Alan Gold," causing State GOP Chair George Gallo to moan – quoted in the Hartford Courant – "Our mistake is that we only vetted candidates using their real names, not aliases"; the Courant further reported that Schlesinger had been sued twice by casinos to collect unpaid gambling debt) to win.
Actually, after all the top Republicans in sight endorsed Lieberman and abandoned Schlesinger, it became pretty much a 2-man race between L & L.
Lost in the furor surrounding this – which the US press kept remarkably silent about – was the fact that in most of America Lieberman would not even have had the option of pressing on as an independent. According to Richard Winger in Ballot Access news, 46 states have either explicit "sore loser laws" or simultaneous filing deadlines making a post-primary shift impossible for any candidate other than a presidential one. Only Connecticut, Iowa, New York and Vermont allow such a loophole for "sore losers." The previous 2 sentences were quoted from Troy Schneider's New York Times op-ed 16 July 2006. And in 11 states it is not permitted for anybody who is (or recently was) a member of a political party, to run independent for any seat!
These laws are of course specifically designed to safeguard the two major parties from those annoying "spoiler scenarios" of precisely this sort. But – is that fair and democratic? Lieberman, according to polls conducted in the very same week as his primary defeat, actually had more support Connecticut-wide, than either Lamont or Schlesinger! Later note: and he won the election! (But did he then propose liberalization of ballot-access laws? Not quite.) But under this sort of law, just because it was convenient for party leaders to brand Lieberman a "sore loser," the most popular choice of the voters would actually be prevented from running! This is the most undemocratic possible outrage!
Now there is a simple way that Connecticut could now solve this "problem" while in fact increasing democracy – adopt range voting, in which the "spoiler" phenomenon and "vote-splitting" both do not exist. Would the "Democratic" party (which controlled both CT state houses, although not the governorship) try to do that, or would they try to abolish democracy by ramming through a "sore loser law" for Connecticut?
The answer soon came. (Elected Democratic) Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz swam into this cesspit by proposing to the CT legislature a new law which would make it illegal for anybody who lost a primary, from then being an independent candidate. Read more about Susan Bysiewicz as a member of the club of the US states' maximally biased election supervisors, such as Katherine Harris in Florida 2000 and J.Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio 2004.
One-party domination via Ballot Access restrictions
Suppose one of the two major parties in a state gets weak. The other party then passes a highly restrictive ballot access law. That means the weak party will be able to get on ballot in comparatively few races. That means it will get weaker and the strong party stronger. Pretty soon we have pretty complete one-party domination.
Think it can't happen? Florida 1936: The Republican party failed to get 30% of the vote for a statewide office (this was the era of Democratic one-party domination of the South) therefore by Florida law was no longer a "political party." Furthermore, the only way a political party could get on the Florida ballot at that point was to get at least 30% of the vote – which was always still theoretically possible because Florida permitted "write in" candidates on ballots so that any voter could vote for anybody in any race. This of course was too ridiculous even for Florida so they in 1937 lowered the 30% bar to 15%.
In Louisiana, nearly all voters were registered Democrat (it was pointless to be anything else since the Democrats always won, therefore to have any voting power whatever you needed to register Democrat so you could vote in their primary, which effectively was the real election). That prevented La Follette from getting on ballot in 1924 because by law the signers of his petition had to be entirely nonmembers of any other party.
Today, approximately one third of all state-house elections are unopposed one-candidate races.
Q. Would anything horrible happen if we just let anybody get on any ballot just by asking?
A1. Not necessarily. Arkansas had exactly that policy up to 1997. The most US Presidential candidates Arkansas ever had on ballot was 13 (in 1996).
A2. But possibly. The 2003 California Governor-recall race won by Schwarzennegger had minimal requirements to get on ballot – and 135 people ran.
So we conclude that some requirements are necessary to stop there from being ridiculously high numbers of contenders. But not much.
In all US history since the age of preprinted ballots began (about 1890) up to 2005, there have only been two cases where a ballot for some statewide office (or US presidential race) has ever had more than 10 candidates on it, provided at least 2500 signatures were required to get on ballot (and even in those cases, there were ≤12 candidates). See Richard Winger's paper for details.
These ballot access facts mainly are extracted from issues of Ballot Access news.
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