Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ballot Access Law on Trial

Former State Representative Jim Lendall's effort to run for Governor on the Green Party ticket has brought Arkansas' flawed ballot access laws into focus. People don't undertand how Rod Bryan can get on the ballot for Governor with 11,000 voter signatures while Jim Lendall is being denied ballot access for the same office even though his Green Party has 18,000 such signatures.

I discussed the potential impact of a Lendall campaign on the Governor's race here. On this column, I would like to help clear up the confusion I see on the issue of ballot access. First of all, even if it were not in his political interests (which it IS) Attorney General Mike Bebee has an obligation to try to defend Arkansas Law in court (don't feel too sorry for him, last year he issued an opinion that current law complied with past federal court rulings on the law, which is as we shall see, a ridiculous assertion). Secondly, he is going to lose.

(Click Tuesday below and scroll down for rest of article, unless sent straight here, in which case just scroll down.)


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

I have my stack of documents on this issue somewhere among my effects, but tonight I will give the history of this saga to you as best as memory allows. The current Arkansas Ballot Access law, with minor modifications, was put in place in the early 1970s. Since that time, no third party has ever qualified for the ballot under the law. Ross Perot litigated his way onto the ballot in 1992.

The Reform Party tried to get access again in 1996. Again the state tried to keep them off. Again the state lost.

This time a Federal Judge (Howard or Arnold?) told Arkansas its ballot access laws were a violation of the 14th amendment. His reasoning was you can't have one level of signatures required to run for office state-wide as an independent and a much higher standard for the same man to run for the same office as a member of a new party.

The state put the Reform Party on the ballot, made some minor adjustments to their laws, and dug their heels in. They did not change the huge differential in the number of signatures needed for access to the ballot depending on who you want to associate with.

After the Perot effort, the legislature decided that Presidential candidates could get state-wide ballot access under a third party label with only a 1,000 signatures. Governor still required 10,000 signatures to run as an Independent and 3% of the vote, which is 24,000 signatures and growing, for the same person to run under a third party label.

I can only assume that the reason they made it so easy for Presidential candidates was to avoid being sued by rich out-of-staters. The legislature did not want their ballot access laws subject to public scrutiny.

In an 01 special election, the state lost another ballot access case. They had no provision at all for new parties to participate in special elections. After that, the state maintained that the requirements for ballot access for a special election were the same as for a regular election.

This would mean that for the special election for representative Dobbins' seat in North Little Rock an independent would need about 400 signatures to compete, but that same person running as a candidate for a new party would need 24,000 signatures! Clearly, the Secretary of State's office is trying to protect the two established parties here. They are supposed to work for the people of this state, not their political party!

The Libertarians made a valiant effort to get on the ballot in 02. They turned in just over 10,000 signatures. By the letter of the law, they needed lots more to get the 3%.

What the SOS did was start checking the signatures and threw out enough to get the Libertarians under 10,000. With the count thus reduced, it undermined the Libertarians case that since an Independent only required 10K to get on the ballot, the state could not require them to get more.

The state said Judge Howard's original ruling did not apply. In a footnote, the new federal judge in the case disagreed. He said that IF the Libertarians has gotten more than 10K signatures then it would apply. Since they did not, the case was dismissed.

The only change the legislature made to the law was to say that if a new party did not have above the 3% then the SOS does not have to check any signatures, it should dismiss the petitions immediately. Now that the media is exposing how rotten our ballot access laws are, prominient members from both parties are falling all over themselves to say how much they support greater ballot access.

Some of them may actually mean it, but only one of them can prove it. Let the record show that Senator Jim Holt, Republican nominee for Lt. Governor, sponsored a bill in the 05 legislative session, SB 1112, that would have equalized ballot access requirements for members of third parties and independents. The bill was received by Senators on both sides like a Nazi at a bar-mitzvah.

The bottom line is that barring a miracle Mike Bebee, representing the state of Arkansas, is going to lose this case. That part is not his fault. What would be his fault is if he decides to drag it out in an effort to derail Lendall's campaign and protect the status quo. By delaying, he could keep Lendall tied up until the Fall. Lendall won't raise much money anyway, but if this drags on he will really be hindered. Who is going to cut a check to someone when they are not even sure they are going to be on the ballot until September?

The law stinks, it protects the dominant political parties and not the people of this state, and everyone knows it should have been changed by now. If he wants to do the right thing, Mr. Bebee can end this case the first day in court and save us some money and bad press.

9:46 PM, June 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...you can't have one level of signatures required to run for office state-wide as an independent and a much higher standard for the same man to run for the same office as a member of a new party.

But you can have differing levels for Republicans/Democrats and everyone else? This may be legal, but it's neither prudent nor wise.

Why should state laws protect two particular parties from competition? That loss of competition is the reason why our politicians routinely ignore us voters.

5:31 AM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Also, let me make a little more clear that Mr. Bebee gave his stamp of approval to the current, clearly unsatisfactory, law. As Aaron Sadler reports,"After the decision, the Legislature changed some election laws - including moving from January to May the deadline for filing a petition to form a new political party - to ease restrictions on political parties, but kept the signature requirements intact.

Attorney general's opinions in 1999 and again last year concluded that the changes met the requirements of Howard's ruling."

Did you catch that last bit? Fiddling with the DATES the petitions had to be submitted suppossedly complied with Judge Howard's ruling. They ignored the point of the Judge's ruling that THE NUMBER OF SIGNATURES required for ballot access must be the same for independents and third party candidates.

Some people have said that Mr. Bebee is an incompetent lawyer. I don't believe that. He knew what he was doing. His party and one rival had automatic ballot access and he was going to do everything possible to "pull up the ladder" so no other party could get on the ballot.

He made a choice to be a willing part of the system that dragged its heels for over a decade in complying with that federal court ruling. He was part of a system that would resist doing the right thing until he was absolutely made to- and is still resisting, though we can be hopeful that it's days are numbered on this one issue.

I want the readers to take note how the politicians of our state were quick to try to close down rural schools, some good schools like Paron High, because "the court is making us, we have to comply with the court order." Yet that was only a state court, which they have a duty to check and balance under our system of government. By contrast, when a FEDERAL court tells them they must let other parties on the ballot, they dig in their heels and stall for over a decade.

It is a real shame the things they think are important (protecting their monopoly on ballot access) and the things they lightly trade away (the young men and women of Paron High and others).

9:14 AM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...



Between 1891 and 1971, any party could get on the ballot in Arkansas, just by requesting to be on. In the 80 years with total easy ballot access, Arkansas never had more than 6 parties on the ballot.

Also independent candidates in Arkansas only needed 50 signatures (no matter what they were running for) until 1955. According to the Secretary of State's office, there has not been an independent candidate for governor on the ballot since 1940.

Over 30 years ago, I started working to re-open ballot access. In the 1970s, I filed a series of lawsuits challenging filing deadlines and petition requirements as high as 15% of the total vote for Governor.

Green Party Convention - call for candidates

The Green Party of Arkansas is inviting people to run as Green Party candidates for local, county and general assembly positions in the November election. The Green Party of Arkansas will have its nominating convention on Saturday, July 15, 2006, at the University Mall, 300 South University Ave., in Little Rock from noon to 6pm. To inquire about becoming a candidate, call or email any member of the State Executive Committee listed on the Networking Contact page of the Green Party of Arkansas website www.arkgreens.org.

Jim Lendall
Green Party of Arkansas
Candidate for Governor

9:17 AM, June 28, 2006  
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