Maine Greens fight to retain ballot status
by Nancy Allen, co-chair, Maine Green Party
The Maine Green Party (MEGP) was founded in 1984. In 1992, their first Congressional candidate, Jonathan Carter, received 10% in a district covering half the state. In 1994, Carter received 6.5% for Governor, topping the 5% in a statewide race the Greens needed to achieve ballot status.
At that time, the MEGP assumed that according to their reading of the law, this would qualify them for the next four years, until the next statewide election (this is the case in several other states, including California).
The Secretary of State’s office however, let it be known that their office would interpret the law to require a party to achieve 5% every two years to remain on the ballot – in both the gubernatorial and presidential elections – not just every four years at the state elections.
The Greens originally appealed this decision in federal court. The federal judge sent the case to the State Supreme Court to find out what exactly the Maine law is. At the same time, the Greens and the Secretary of State’s office pursued legislation on the state level that would change the requirement to 5% every four years. Both times, the legislature turned it down.
In August ‘97 the Maine Supreme Court ruled unanimously in support of the Secretary of State’s ruling (a ‘bad interpretation according to Richard Winger, Ballot Access News). Because MEGP presidential candidate Ralph Nader received only 2.5% in ‘96, the court ruled the Greens would have to go off the ballot.
But Nancy Allen, co-chairwoman of the Green Party, said the decision does not disqualify the party, because there is an injunction prohibiting it until the case is fully resolved. According to Allen, the MEGP’s suit included a clause stating after the state defined the application of the law, the federal court would rule on its constitutionality. First is the question of the state of Maine’s violation of the MEPG’s 1st and 14th amendment rights to form and sustain a political party. Second is the state of Maine’s requirement that a newly-forming state party must run a national candidate for president without the existence of a national party. In this respect, Allen said the current law is unfair to emerging parties that can do well within the state, but not yet nationally.
This case is potentially historic, because there has never been a federal court decision striking down any state’s definition of ‘ongoing party’. According to Winger the case very easily could win. In 1992 the US Supreme Court said (in Norman v. Reed) that the states are required to have election laws which permit new parties to grow and develop. “If there’s any law which violates this,” according to Winger, “it’s Maine’s law, since Maine makes a new party wait 16 months after it polls 5%, before the state will consider it recognized! Then only 8 months later, it must poll 5% again. It’s outrageous.”
The MEGP’s long-time attorney recently got a new full-time job and although he wanted to continue working on the case, his new employer forbade him from doing so. The party is on the verge of hiring a new attorney, Gary Sinawski, who has litigated more constitutional ballot access cases than any other attorney in the nation.
An interesting backdrop to this issues of legitimacy is what the public seems to indicate through the voluntary state income tax political party donation checkoff. In 1997, the MEGP received more money state tax donation money ($8,306.84) than the Republicans ($6,446.08) and almost as much as the Democrats ($10,468.14).
Pennsylvania Greens help prevent weakening of state ballot access
by Tom Linzey, Shippenburg (PA), legal advisory, ASGP
A hearty thanks to all the national greens that assisted us here in Pennsylvania with the defeat of Senate Bill 200, a bill which would have doubled or tripled ballot access requirements for third parties and independent candidates. If this bill had been in place in 1996, circulators for the presidential campaign would have been forced to gather 99,000 signatures for ballot access. Responding to grassroots pressure, Governor Thomas Ridge vetoed the Bill and sent a veto message to the Pennsylvania legislature.
Lobbying heavily against the bill was Richard Winger of Ballot Access News and
Ralph Nader, who sent an especially strong letter to Governor Ridge, urging him to veto the bill. Winger was instrumental in getting an article in the New York Times that blasted the two party hold on Pennsylvania politics.
The Greens have drafted a Ballot Access Bill which reduces signature
requirements in this state, and have presented it to several legislators
for sponsorship. Known as the Voters’ Choice Act, it would reduce the signature requirement to one-tenth of 1 percent. If the legislation had been in place last year, the signature requirement would have plunged from 40,000 to 4,200. (Republicans and Democrats are required to net only 2,000 signatures to get on their respective primary ballots.) The bill likewise would slasd the signature requirement for local contests and ease restrictions for third-parties to become recognized by the state.