Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Deconstructing Nate Bell on Ballot Laws

Last month, I reported to you that Neighbors of Arkansas, a group of which I am a member, was suing the state of Arkansas for an outrageous change to the ballot access laws for independents.

The sole co-sponsor of the bill changing the law was Nate Bell of Mena, the socially conservative, fiscally enigmatic Republican who voted to fund Medicaid expansion in Arkansas under Obamacare so that he could stop it later, or some such nonsense.   Bell and I have also clashed on the use of debt to fund highway maintenance. Steve Brawner of the Arkansas News Service did a story on the suit, and here is how he describes Bell's thinking on the matter...

Bell said the change in the signature deadline was made to create “an equal footing with regard to timetable,” not to try to burden independent candidates. When independents had until May 1 to turn in their signatures, that meant party candidates weren’t really sure about the election landscape until shortly before the party primary. That affected fundraising, volunteer recruitment and other activities, he said.
Bell, who once was elected constable as an independent, argued that it’s actually easier to collect signatures in the winter because people are more likely to be home. Besides, the best way to collect signatures is by finding large groups of people, not walking door to door.
“The ones who are complaining about it being a barrier are the same candidates who frankly aren’t going to be competitive in the election,” he said.
So shifting the deadline by which independent candidates must turn in their petition signatures from the delightful Spring months of March, April and May to the cold and early-dark months of December, January, and February was not trying to make a burden for independent candidates?   Last cycle, seven independent candidates for the state legislature qualified for the ballot.  This year, only one did.  Does anyone reading this article believe that the people of Arkansas are seven times more satisfied with the two-party system than they were two years ago?  A more likely explanation is that the Dead of Winter signature collection period makes it much harder for independents to get on the ballot, and basically impossible to file at the last minute.

Bell's idea of an "equal footing with regards to time table" is that Republicans and Democrats can go decide to file at the last minute based on what they see, while independents must act weeks or really months in advance gathering the signatures they will need to file.  Remember, the real deciding vote for the so-called Private Option, if it was not Bell himself, was Rep. Kim Hammer, another bait and switch Republican who voted against the "Private Option" until the filing period to run against him was closed, then switched his vote.

And don't you just love this contention: "When independents had until May 1 to turn in their signatures, that meant party candidates weren’t really sure about the election landscape until shortly before the party primary. That affected fundraising, volunteer recruitment and other activities."

Am I the only one who sees that as basically saying he wanted the law changed because it was more convenient for the establishment party politicians?  But what does it even mean?  Does it mean that politicians did not know how to change their image based on who they were running against?

Also, it belies the statement that he wanted an "equal footing with regard to time table".  Say there are two or more republicans in a primary, and two or more Democrats, and the vote to determine who will face who is held on May 20th.   When they won't know the Democrat or Republican landscape until May 20th then even giving the independents until May 1 does not give them an "equal footing" as regards to time table.  And now that unequal footing is made even more unequal because Bell's bill has moved  the date for independents and independents alone back to early March.  His change does not put anything on an equal footing.  Rather, it exaggerates the already skewed law which says that Independents have to show their hands first.

I will let the readers who suffered through this most recent Winter judge whether Bell is talking sense when he claims that collecting signatures is easier in the Winter than the Spring.  His claim about 'the best way to gather signatures isn't door-to-door' may or may not be true in Mena, where districts are huge due to sparse populations.  Those doors are usually far apart, and any crowd is likely to have your voters in it.  But none of that applies to more populated districts where people from three or four legislative districts may use the same post office or be in any crowd you see.  You can't be sure the voter is in the right district unless you go door-to-door, and a lot of doors are close together.  Bell may just be taking what he has found to be true for him and assuming it universally applies to everybody.  It is hard to be a fair person when one can't imagine one's self in the other person's shoes.

As for his last comment, about the people complaining not being the ones who can win anyway, I was complaining so I guess it was aimed at me.   I think we should just have ballot access laws which allow citizens equal access to the ballot regardless of how they choose to run and then let the voters decide who does or does not have a chance.  I was at about 39% in 2012 as an independent and I think the disgust with the two-party system which has mismanaged the country is worse now than then.  I'd like a chance to convince 6% of the voters to change their vote, resulting in a 12% swing and a victory, regardless of who Nate Bell thinks is or is not a credible candidate.


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