Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mike Munger on NC ballot access

Mike Munger is a Wake Libertarian and the chair of PoliSci at Duke. He
will be delivering the following commentary on UNC radio next week
(Monday, possibly?); it will be broadcast on all UNC affiliates. Thanks to Susan Hogarth for forwarding this to the LPNC list serv. Unfortunately, the end of the commentary got cut off. But it's still an excellent read, and Dr. Munger makes great points all the way around.


Third Party Ballot Access Commentary
Mike Munger

Hey, North Carolina: We're near the top! And we've got our eye on
the summit: number one.
Unfortunately, this is not a list of winners. By two different
measures, North Carolina has among the most restrictive and
undemocratic ballot access laws in the nation. We are in violation of
United Nation rules on ballot access, and fall well short of the
requirements for "Free and Fair" elections that we publish and use to
evaluate nations like Nicaragua or the Philippines. It's great to be

Consider some examples of the scope and impact of these restrictions:
1. Ralph Nader was kept off the ballot in NC in both 2000 and 2004.
Now, you can be for Nader, or against him, as a Presidential
candidate, but how can you argue that the citizens of North Carolina
should not be allowed to make their own choice? The real travesty was
denying Nader ballot access in 2000. He was the official candidate of
the Reform party that year, a party that had won double digit
percentage vote totals in many U.S. states in the previous two
elections. That's pretty outrageous.
The North Carolina law has it completely backwards: you have to get
10% of the vote as a precondition to get on the ballot. How does that
work, exactly? Real well, perfectly, from the perspective of the two
so-called major parties. Not so well, from the perspective of
citizens who would like to have a choice, rather than just be an echo.

2. Of course, there is another way to get on the ballot. A party, or
a candidate, has to collect signatures on a petition. One hundred
thousand signatures! After every election. You either collect one
hundred thousand signatures all over again, starting at zero, or you
get wiped out. What the aspiring party has to do is spend months of
time, and all of its meager cash, standing on street corners and
begging. Not just once. Every time there is an election. Until a
recent change in the law, it was worse: The language on the petition
made it sound like the signer had to support the new party, or
candidate, perhaps even financially.
There are two different questions here: do you, as a voter, support
the Green, the Socialist Workers, or the Libertarian Party candidate?
How would you know? Who are they? That is just too difficult a
hurdle for a party without ballot access to jump over. The second
question, the one that the policy should focus on, is this: do you
think that we need more choices, more alternatives, to the hide-bound,
insulated, and out-of-touch political establishment in this state?

Full disclosure: I'm a registered Libertarian. Or, I should say that
I was. Now I am an outcast, a pariah. I hope I don't have to go sew
a pink "L" on my shirt as an outward sign of my shame.
The state of North Carolina has just decided to strip my right to
register or vote as a Libertarian. Now, they are being fair about it:
they deny the same right to the Greens, the Natural Law, the
Socialist Workers, or any other third party. In the particular
instance, decided this week, consider this: There were 13,000 of us,
actually registered as Libertarian. There were more than 50,000
people in our state who voted for Barbara Howe, the Libertarian
gubernatorial candidate, in 2004.
Do we "need" a third party? Do we need all that clutter, and choice,
on the ballot? Suppose you asked Ford and General Motors if the
American public "needs" more choices. They'd say no. We don't need
those Toyotas, and Lexus sedans, and nice little Honda hybrids. We
don't even need Dodges, Jeeps, Chryslers, or other American cars. Two
choices ought to be enough for you little people.
Well…why? Competition keeps the big boys honest, or at least lets
people choose something else if the big two become too powerful and
greedy. But North Carolina has used ballot access restrictions to
prevent any challenges to the big two. You are either a Republican,
or a Democrat, or you are out of luck. How is that working out for
you, citizens?
This is a truly nonpartisan issue, one of the few I can think of. As
a matter of policy, in my opinion, this is an easy fix. Consider:

1. The ruling party oligarchy should not be able to decide which
parties are legitimate and which are not. But here are the thoughts
of Richard Morgan, then House co-speaker: This is how (I'm quoting
North Carolina maintains stability within its political system.
Although there are some legitimate political parties in existence that
have not yet met this threshold in North Carolina, there are even more
parties that are illegitimate that this policy has been able to keep
at bay."
Keep "illegitimate parties at bay"? I think I preferred it in the
original German, frankly. If we need ballot restrictions to keep
certain parties away on election day, we must be afraid that people
might actually vote for such "illegitimate" parties. To me, the fact
that people might vote for them is what would prove those parties are

2. These ballot access restrictions are not some part of our sacred
heritage. Until 1981, North Carolina had much, much less onerous
requirements. We haven't even had these laws 25 years yet. It is an
experiment that has harmed our state, and rendered our political
system inert, our government calcified and unresponsive. Let's get
rid of the restrictions, dropping the petition and percentage
requirements to 1 of the electorate or less. The average in other
states is even lower; ½ of one percent of the electorate gets your
party on the ballot. That is 1/20 of our present requirement in North

3. The experience of other states shows that the scare tactics used
by opponents are flat wrong. No state with a requirement of at least
5,000 petition signatures has ever had even ten choices on the ballot.
Very few states have as many as four alternatives.

The problem is not with the parties that want to offer choices, or
with the citizens who would like to see some challenges to the status
quo. The problem is with the overly restrictive and repressive laws
that keep all of us from having a voice in the first place. The
political repression hall of fame is not a list how we should wan


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Munger is a Wake Libertarian and the chair of PoliSci at Duke..
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3:45 AM  

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