Friday, March 16, 2007

Pulling Up the Ladder on Ballot Access

Well they are at it again, at least as much as they think the courts will let them. Readers of this space will know that we predicted long in advance that the state was going to get it's head handed to it in court due to it's unfair, and unconstitutional, ballot access laws. These laws had the effect of discriminating against new political parties attempting to gain ballot access. Sure enough, the state lost the case and the Green party was placed on the ballot by court order.

I have never seen a time where disatisfaction with the two dominant political parties was higher. The average voter has lost all faith in them, but the two machines fail to change their policies or practices. Rather than reforming to meet the desires of the voters, the parties are resorting to measures that "pull up the ladder" after them. This choice was made again in the Arkansas legislature this week.

Continued- click FRIDAY BELOW and scroll down for rest of article.


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

The courts rule that you cannot have one standard of ballot access for a person who wants to run as a member of a third party, and a lower standard if that same person wanted to run as an independent or non-partisan judicial position.

They required 10,000 voter signatures to run as an independent for statewide office, but 3% of the voters- now over 30,000, to run as a member of a new political party. No one has ever met that requirement since the law was passed in 1977. Even Ross Perot used a court victory to get himself on the ballot- that led to one of the court rulings that the legislature is just now getting around to complying with.

You see, when the court orders them to accumulate more power in Little Rock and spend more money, they comply immediately. When the court orders them to give other people a better chance to compete for their jobs they drag their feet for a decade.

At any rate, even though new parties had to get more signatures, they also had more days to get them. Something like 150 instead of 61. So to equalize it, they could have chosen to give independents and judicial candidates more days, or new parties less. Representative Dan Greenberg's bill on ballot access protects the two parties as much as possible by choosing the latter course. They picked the right man to sponsor it for cover. Don't expect the editorial page of the Democrat-Gazette to publish a scathing rebuke to the younger Mr. Greenberg for pulling the ladder up on ballot access. At least as much as they still can.

It was not too long ago in this nation's history that we had blank ballots. Any man could just stand up in the town square and announce they wanted to run. People had to actually write down the name of the person they wanted to elect, but there was no ballot clutter. Run-offs could be held to sort out the matter of a person winning a small plurality in a twenty-person field, if that ever happened.

That was a good system because no candidate was beholden to any party. Of course, it also meant citizens had to think. It was harder to just vote party label. If I had the power, I'd send us back to the blank ballot in a heartbeat. It would fix a lot of our two-party woes.

5:40 AM, March 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Want to talk voter access?

How about wet/dry issues in Arkansas?

If you want to take your county wet or take your city dry inside a wet county you need a petition signed by 38% of the registered voters.

In a given year voter turnout runs around 57%.

So if there are 10,000 registered voters you need 3,800 to publicly declare they favor changing the current law whichever it is.

If it is a normal year, only 5,700 votes will be cast and only 2,851 votes required to prevail.

So if you want to shut down the honky-tonks with all the loud music and fights by taking your township dry you basically have to get 133% of the votes needed to win the election in order to get the issue on the ballot.

Then if you get it on the ballot and prevail, the owners will re-organize as a private club and never slow down.

7:20 AM, March 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Republicans believe in full-throttle, wide-open, free markets and the virtues of competition...

...except when it comes to political parties.

Then, they take the backwards position that monopolies are somehow great.

12:53 PM, March 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is sad that, unless I'm mistaken, all 23 votes against this unconstitutional muzzle on democracy were Democrats. At least their names should be on a roll of honor, and those 20 Republicans who voted for it should be remembered with a wall of shame.

2:40 PM, March 16, 2007  
Blogger GOPin08 said...

12:53, excuse me? Republicans don't run the state. They never have! It's your socialist Dems that like to stifle free speech. If they Dems have control of everything now, what are they so worried about in future elections that they don't want other parties on the ballot? Looks suspicious to me. And since, unfortunately for the state, Charlie "Jack" Daniels is still SOS, he won't do anything about free ballot access. In fact, he'll be one of the many who will be stifling it!!

4:10 PM, March 16, 2007  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

plenty of blame to go 'round gents.

6:33 PM, March 16, 2007  
Blogger Steve Harrelson said...

I enjoy seeing Mark Moore and the ACLU banding together -- haha. Fact is that you're both right on this one.

Greenberg's bill is good (well, better than before) on the signature requirement (10,000 vs. 3%). I voted against it on the basis that the time limit allowed to garner these signatures is not near long enough (lowered from 150 days to 60 -- that requires 167 signatures per day). In Greenberg's defense, he states that the time restriction language was not his.

10:36 PM, March 16, 2007  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...


I wish the ACLU understood where our civil liberties come from. It would allow them to be truer to their stated mission than they are and we would agree more often. As it is, I fear that they object when big-government "conservatives" take away civil liberties, but not when leftist judges and liberals take them away. Since I consistently support true civil liberties no matter which side is attempting to take them away, I find myself in agreement with the ACLU about half the time. If and when they decide to get intellectually consistent, it would be all the time. I am a strong defender of civil liberties.

Congratulations on your vote on the bill. The right vote, for the right reasons. They had a choice to lower the ladder down or pull it up, and they choose to pull it up.

Very sporting of you to speak up for young Rep. Greenburg. His story sounds rather like an excuse to me. Whose language was it if not his as sponsor of the bill?

In 05 I wrote a bill to address this to save the state the trouble of losing the court fight, it was SB1112 of 05. On my first draft, put in language that raised the number of days independents and judges had to get their signatures, and lowered the number of signatures new parties required so that everything would be equal. In other words, it equalized things by letting the ladder down across the board. The legislator had me take it off and just deal with the issue of 3rd parties, but originally I wrote it just like Greenberg SHOULD have written it this time.

Greenberg's bill leaves the ladder where it is for independents and judges, but raises in terms of number of days required. As for lowering the total number of signatures required- he had no choice. After loosing the Lendall case you guys could not address this issue without lowering that signature requirement.

I guess I am not in full agreement with the ACLU in the sense that they say you are legally obligated to keep giving the new parties 150 days since the ruling. I disagree. You are only morally obligated. The legislature has the right to set the standards for ballot access where ever they want to. The only thing they CAN'T do is have a higher standard for a person who wants to seek state-wide ballot access as a member of a third party than they would that same person seeking the same office as an individual. The same constitution that empowers you guys to set the standard requires equality for whatever standard you set.

PS- Do you think you have any kin in NWA? I am telling you every time I see your picture I am reminded of my high school classmate and all-round good guy Bill Harrelson. Bill is now the head football coach of the Gravette Lions. In most angles you two do not look alike, but that little AVATAR pic you use looks just like him.

9:04 AM, March 17, 2007  
Blogger GOPin08 said...

The ACLU couldn't care less about civil liberties! All they're concerned about is making sure Christians get left out of the public policy process and infringing on our first amendment rights of freedom of speech AND of religion.

11:31 AM, March 17, 2007  
Anonymous Dan Greenberg said...

Mark, it’s more than a little incredible to me that you could write a thousand or so words about this bill while neglecting to discuss what it actually does. You seem more interested in denouncing the bill by using emotional and conclusory language about “pulling up the ladder” than discussing what the bill under discussion actually does. Let me try to inject a few facts into the discussion.

Speaking very generally, the current law requires new political parties to gather about 24,000 signatures in 5 months. (The actual number of signatures would be higher than 24,000 based on the 2002 elections, and lower than 24,000 based on the 2006 elections.) HB 2353 cuts both the number of signatures required and the time available by around 60%. (You could look at it this way: originally, signature gatherers had to run 5 miles in 50 minutes, but under HB 2353 they only have to run 2 miles in 20 minutes.) Most people will see this new standard as comparatively light, especially when it’s explained that HB 2353 strips away other burdensome signature requirements. Previously, signature gatherers had to personally witness every signature. Under HB 2353, signature gatherers can just leave a clipboard in a coffee shop or a college cafeteria and pick it up at the end of the day. This obviously makes it much easier to gather signatures rapidly.

In my opinion, some critics have focused on the shorter time allowed without paying attention to the lower signature requirement. That approach doesn’t make a lot of sense to me: it’s akin to trying to calculate the square mileage of a plot of land by looking only at width and not at breadth. The point of HB2353 is that the labor required from signature gatherers is significantly diminished. The number of days you’d have to collect signatures is cut by more than half (that’s the point of the 2-mile vs. 5-mile example) and the attestation requirement for signatures has been eliminated. It is hard for me to see any foundation for your statement that HB2353 “protects the two parties as much as possible.”

Third parties have a right to organize and get their candidates on the ballot. The voting public, however, has a right to the orderly administration of elections in a manner that minimizes voter confusion, and that means that it’s appropriate to require third parties to meet some standards in order to get on the ballot. (I’m paraphrasing a Supreme Court case here, Lubin v. Panish.) I don’t think there’s anything wrong as a matter of policy with reasonable signature requirements for third parties that create some hurdles. The Secretary of State’s office, which drafted this legislation, had concerns about having enough time to administer the verification of 10,000 signatures. Their decision was that HB2353 was a reasonable outcome when you take all concerns – including the rights of third parties, the rights of the voting public, and issues of administrability – into account. I’m inclined to think that most reasonable and informed observers of Arkansas election law will agree.

Of course, reasonable and informed observers of Arkansas election law will actually be interested in discussing the law. Your article seems much less interested in that and much more interested in predicting the reaction of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s editorial page to the legislation, perhaps because it’s much easier to take a cheap shot at me and the editorial staff over there than to actually discuss relevant legal issues. Despite your repeated predictions that the editorial page won’t criticize me, if you actually read the page you would find that it has published editorials critical of my actions several times in the last few years. One might expect that people who repeatedly predict that future events will never occur might be a little chastened if those events have already (repeatedly) occurred in the past, but in your case apparently that is too much to ask! It is all too reminiscent of Josh Billings’s lament that “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”

6:27 AM, March 19, 2007  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Mark, it’s more than a little incredible to me

Hmmm. Let's see what I can do to lower your credulity threshold Representative Greenberg. You profess amazment that critics of this bill are focusing on the shortening of the time allowed rather than the decrease in the number of signatures required. Really now, you guys had no choice about the number of signatures. The courts have already thrown out the higher number for third parties.

You want credit for giving us something that you have been ordered to give us anyway, while at the same time taking something that no one has required you to take. This is analogous to an ex-husband who finally pays the court-ordered amount of child-support, but stipulates that the time-frame the wife has to spend it is shortened from 24 hours of the day to ten hours a day- from midnight to ten AM. Then the husband demands credit for paying the amount he has been forced to anyway.

Your point about simplyfying the forms is a little better- but you left out the fact that the forms for independents were already like that. In other words, this was going to be the NEXT rear-kicking you guys got if you left the petitions for new parties significantly more cumbersome than that of independents and judicial candidates.

Those two things, equalizing the signatures and equalizing the petitions, needed to be done. When the 3rd party had it harder than the independents/judicial candidates, you did it by bringing requirements for new parties down. I say you had too. If you had tried to saddle the judges with as burdensome a petition as 3rd parties have been saddled with, they would have thrown it out with extreme predjudice.

No, the only real decision here was on the one place new parties had it easier than judicial candidates. That was in number of days required. There were two ways to handle it....You could have raised it for judges and independents, or you could have lowered it for new parties. In the only real choice you had, you choose to slash the time for new parties. I have already said that I consider that your right, what I don't get is that you seem to expect credit for doing what you had to do anyway, but seem unwilling to accept blame for doing what you did not have to do.

Your argument that we should slash the days allowed to restirct access in order to "avoid voter confusion" is DOA. There have been about three times since 1977 when the 10,000 threshold was passed for even ONE extra group on the ballot. We have computers now days that can be programmed to show or limit choices with the press of a button. In California's recall election for Governor that brought in Arn-old there were dozens of candidates on the ballot. "Voter Confusion" is not nearly as big a problem with "Voter Disgust" at the limited choices that our current system is bringing us. 71% of all our state legislative races were unopposed last November. Voter confusinon indeed!

I can take shots at you, them, and others, while discussing the facts too. As for your claim that the critical coverage I am predicting won't come has already happened, well, it's laughable. You don't know what criticism from the Demo-zette is. Those were love taps they gave you. Just enough for you to have something to point to. When they treat you 1/10th as nasty as they treated Jim Holt, then come talk to us about how you are not getting a free pass from the Demo-zette.

And while we are on it, how many freshmen legislators get 20 column inches of space to be the go-to guy on the reasons why we should vote down the ERA? Yet you got those inches. You got more space to tell your side of things in that one article than some get in their whole career. How did YOU get picked to be the one to make that case? Hmmmm?

Not that you were wrong. It was good writing, and I agreed with you completely on that issue. But a lot of guys could have written that column, guys who had a bigger role in turning it back last time. Guys who were not freshmen legislators.

Now there is the rub. Look at 'ole Steve Harrelson a few posts above yours. Look at his blog. I disagree with him on more issues than I disagree with you. Yet somehow, that guy knows how to handle himself. He knows how to handle critics. He knows how to make arguments without making enemies. He is humble in demeanor. He does not have a Huckabee-like thin skin. Combine that with a conservative agenda, and it would be amazing.

6:22 PM, March 19, 2007  

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