Presidential campaign ignites many state ballot drives
By Brian Bittner, member of the GPUS Ballot Access Committee
Ballot access—the ability to organize a political party, claim to represent a membership, run candidates for office, and have votes for those candidates counted—is like running water or electric lights. We depend on it for much of what we do without even thinking about it. Only in its absence do we stop to think about where it comes from and how we can live without it. Most of us have constant access to water, light, and ballot access, but some of us do not.
Just as our commitment to social and economic justice inspires us to work to provide universal access to basic daily needs, our commitment to political justice ought to inspire all of us to contribute to ballot access for all of the state affiliates of the Green Party of the United States (GP-US).
The Ballot Access Committee of the GP-US has taken on the challenge of winning ballot access for Green Parties in as many states as possible in 2008, not only to give our presidential candidate a chance at setting new records, but also establishing the groundwork for mid-term ballot access drives in 2010.
Ballot Access History
In 2000, the Green Party presidential candidate appeared on the ballot in 22 states. In 2004, the Green Party presidential candidate appeared on 28 state ballots. The Green Party currently holds ballot access in 21 states and the District of Columbia. The Green Party allocated only $1,000 to winning more ballot lines in 2004. Since then the standing Ballot Access Committee has been created and the Green Party has committed to raising funds for 2008. GP-US has established a fundraising goal of $100,000 for ballot access efforts in 2008. Only about 5 percent has been raised thus far.
GP-US’s 2008 ballot access drives illustrate both the variety of barriers that have been set up to keep minor parties off state ballots and how the grassroots efforts of Greens from across the country have helped overcome those barriers. Four of this year’s ballot access drives—in Arizona, Hawaii, Virginia, and Pennsylvania—show how Greens have contributed to a successful national ballot access plan.
While many state parties faced and met ballot access deadlines in 2006 and safely enjoy ballot access throughout the 2008 election season, other state parties’ deadlines are set based on presidential elections and will come throughout 2008.
Each state party sets its own legal requirements and allows a party to win or maintain ballot access through different measures, some by registering a certain number of party members, others by earning a certain percentage of the vote. Most states require groups to petition the state government to form a new party or extend the ballot access of an existing party by gathering the signatures of a particular number of citizens to show that public support for that party exists.
The first state to face a requirement this year was Arizona. Because of this unusually early deadline (similar early deadlines have been overturned as unconstitutional by other state courts) and high number of signatures required (20,449) the situation looked particularly grim. “With just three or four weeks to go and only 13,000 signatures in hand, I thought we were doomed to failure!” said Richard Scott, co-chair of the Arizona Ballot Access Committee. With many potential volunteers and donors not checking the ballot access radar be cause of the early deadline, a handful of volunteers in a geographically imposing state were overwhelmed. Because of state laws that required petitions to be sorted by county and turned in at county boards of election, the few volunteers who were collecting signatures on a regular basis were busy simply transporting petitions to the proper office.
Because no other drives had started, the Ballot Access Committee was able to make a sizable donation of funds to the Arizona Green Party to entice new volunteers to get involved, employ a few professional petitioners to work at high-volume events, and show national support for Arizona’s efforts. More importantly, state and local organizations from all over the country took the initiative to raise funds and send volunteers of their own. All of the candidates for the Green Party’s presidential nomination visited or sent volunteers to help collect petitions. On March 6th, the Arizona Green Party handed in almost 30,000 signatures, well above the legal requirement of 20,449. “I can’t thank all the helpers and contributors enough” Scott concluded. “This shows just what we can do when we pull together.”
The Green Party of Hawaii (GPH) faced a whole new set of challenges in April of this year. The party there had been on the ballot continually since 1992, having worked to establish state law that granted ten years of ballot access for parties that either successfully petitioned or held a ballot line through election results for three consecutive elections. Perhaps because of the lack of need to work for ballot access for the past ten years, the GPH found itself in need of assistance to make the ballot in 2008.
Because of its low population, Hawaii state law required only 663 valid signatures (one tenth of one percent of the state’s registered voters). The party had to collect several times that number, however, to ensure their petition endured strict verification procedures. As the party was collecting signatures, the campaign of the 2004 Constitution Party presidential candidate and the 2004 independent campaign of Ralph Nader were in court arguing that Hawaii’s verification procedures were overly strict. They lost, but help from the Ballot Access Committee helped the Green Party of Hawaii win ballot access in 2008.
The major difficulty the GPH faced was geography—most party organizers lived on the least populated of the state’s eight major islands, making mass signature collection difficult. Again, the Ballot Access Committee was able to provide a major financial grant to the party to provide stipends for volunteers and arrange help from experienced petitioners from the mainland. The Green Party was also to cooperate with petitioning teams from the Libertarian Party and the independent campaign of Ralph Nader to share petitioning duties, find popular spots, and share housing for volunteers. At the beginning of April the Green Party of Hawaii was able to turn in more than 1500 valid signatures to maintain ballot access and are awaiting certification from the state elections board.
The Green Party of Virginia (GPVA) is on its way to becoming the third success story of 2008. The state of Virginia requires 10,000 valid signatures to earn four years of ballot access. While this is a modest requirement compared to Arizona’s, the standard is toughened by the fact that the GPVA must ensure that each of the state’s congressional districts are represented by a certain number of signatures.
As of June 1, GPVA had already reached over half of its petitioning goal, well before the August 22 deadline. The party plans to have completed its ballot access drive by the start of the Green Party national convention in July and be ready to send volunteers to other states to complete their drives.
The Green Party of Pennsylvania (GPPA) strives to win a spot on November’s ballot in one of the nation’s most restrictive political environments. Courts in Penn sylvania have cooperated with major parties to create a system in which parties and candidates attempting to win ballot access have been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal penalties for merely presenting a ballot access petition to the state. The GPPA has engaged hundreds of volunteers in petitioning and have already collected several thousand signatures, which it is preparing to defend in court if a challenge arises.
The Ballot Access Committee is collecting funds to provide legal defense for ballot access drives and to challenge hundreds of restrictive, outdated, and unconstitutional ballot access laws on the books across the country and are working with the Green Party’s legal advisors and new contacts with the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights and liberties organizations to be prepared to defend state Green Parties when a lawsuit should arise.
Each of these states—in their ability to overcome long odds or their ability simply to stand up to them—represents a 2008 success story. There are many others to be told.
Connecticut (5,000 signatures needed by August 6th), Iowa (1,500 by Aug. 15), Kansas (5,000 Aug. 4th), Kentucky (5,000 Aug 4), and New Jersey (800 by July 28) are currently in the midst of petitioning drives. New York (15,000 Aug. 19), New Hamp shire (3,000 by Aug. 6), Ohio (5,000 by Aug. 21), Rhode Island (1,000 by Sept. 5), and Utah (1,000 by Sept. 2) are currently planning petition drives and waiting for state boards of election to let them begin working. As the successes of early 2008 showed, they can expect success if all Greens make these ballot access drives a national effort.