Running a Ballot Access Campaign
I laughed out loud when a Bernie or Buster called me to ask how to get THE petition to put Jill Stein and the Green Party on the ballot. Like so many people, this caller had no idea that there are 51 different procedures to put a Presidential candidate on the ballot in 51 states.
As of this writing, August 2, we are on the ballot in 23 states, have filed to be on the ballot in another 11, and are actively petitioning in 13. We are almost certainly not going to be on in 4- NC, OK, IN, and SD.
Each state has different requirements to put a minor party or independent Presidential candidate on the ballot, and each state has a different level of organization and activism in its Green Party. This has made the 2016 Ballot Access drive a combination of a scavenger hunt and an obstacle course.
The first step is naturally to find teams of people willing to commit to get the Green Party Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates on the ballot in their states. Not surprisingly, where strong state Green Parties exist, we already have ballot access. In the other states, it was like chasing ghosts and shadows of Greens. Eventually, though, we did find people committed to leading the charge in just about every state.
The next step is to get the proper petition form. Some states require the Presidential Electors be listed on the petition. Some states require the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates to sign the top of the petition before it is circulated. Logistically difficult, to say the least, especially since we don’t choose the VP until the August Convention.
Then comes the question of who can circulate the petitions. In some states you have to be a resident. In other states you cannot circulate petitions for more than one candidate for the same office. In some states, you cannot be paid by the signature- and in a bizarre twist, in Nebraska, your petition has to have a disclaimer, printed in red, that you are either a paid petitioner or a volunteer petitioner.
Starting to get complicated? It gets worse. Who can sign the petition? Again, different in every state. Some places you can not sign if you voted in a major party primary. Others, if you signed for another Presidential candidate. You have to be a registered voter to sign (everywhere but North Dakota). In Wyoming, if you did not vote in the 2014 General Election, you are removed from the voter rolls.
Lastly, each state has different review and approval processes. Both Nevada and Georgia actually compare the signatures to scans of the original voter registration forms. Never mind the sig may be ten or twenty years old, or that the person may have signed the petition in a shopping center parking lot in the 100 degree heat.
All this gory detail to say: state ballot laws are written to prevent so called third party and independent candidates from getting on the ballot. You never see the Democrats or Republicans worrying how many state ballots they will be on.
In just about every other democracy, voters always have four or five or more parties to choose from on their ballots. They are not told year after year and election after election that there are only two choices. And as a result, they have much higher rates of voter participation.
We are all focused on getting on the ballot right now for the 2016 election, and we have been enduring these grotesque carnival rides every election since 1996. Twenty years of weaving through houses of mirrors put up by unethical state legislatures and election administrators. The way forward is to challenge these laws- in the courts and in state houses.
In the last few years, GA, PA, and OK have lowered their signature thresholds. NV, NM, and other states have been told their deadlines are unconstitutionally early. Bans on out of state petitioners have been thrown out. CO has made it a law that any party with 1000 or more registered members is entitled to ballot access.
We also need to fight for universal voter registration. Laws like the one in Wyoming that disenfranchise people, and other hurdles like requiring voter ID need to be dismantled- and every eligible voter needs to be made a registered voter- Motor Voter on steroids!
We all know that the US has one of the worst rates of voter participation of any democracy. Many if not most of these non-voters would be Green voters, if given the opportunity and the ability.
I urge every one of you to work for a better democracy by making your state ease ballot access restrictions. To paraphrase a line from freepress.net: if Green Ballot Access is not your number one issue, it needs to be your number two issue.
Rick Lass is national ballot access coordinator for Jill Stein for President. He has been a Green Party officer and candidate in New Mexico.