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 States 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 States 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 States 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 MEGPs 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 Maines violation of the MEPGs 1st and 14th amendment rights to form and sustain a political party. Second is the state of Maines 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 MEGPs 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).