Ballot Access versus Anti-Democracy
Maine's Republican and Democratic leaders have been awfully busy since the Nov. 3 election assuring the public -- and reassuring themselves -- that, despite getting humiliated by an independent in the race for governor, the state's two official parties have everything under control.
Meanwhile, Maine's Greens are about to become an official party for the second time in four years, thanks to gubernatorial candidate Pat LaMarche polling more than the 5 percent needed to attain ballot status. In two years, after they don't get 5 percent in the 2000 presidential election, the Greens will lose ballot status, thanks to the Republican and Democratic legislators who want it that way.
Now that's control.
Within the next week or so, a federal appeals court will rule on the Greens' challenge of their ballot disqualification after the 1996 presidential election. If this case goes as have challenges to third-party-busting ballot laws in other states, Maine will remain a place where new parties are allowed to form but denied the ability to thrive. It doesn't have to be that way. If just one lawmaker had the courage to introduce such a measure, the Legislature easily could revise Maine's ballot-access law so that only the gubernatorial 5 percent is needed to become, and remain, an official state party. Erasing just one clause of one sentence, eliminating the presidential requirement, would make the viability of a new state party -- Green, Taxpayer, Reform, whatever -- strictly a state concern.
It would give new parties four years to build support, to develop candidates and platforms, to prove themselves to voters. It would be fair.
It also would be an acknowledgment of reality. Maine voters have elected independent governors in three of the last seven elections. They have given Green candidates for governor and Congress strong support in three of the last four. Independent candidates have done well in legislative races, a few have won. Ross Perot finished second here in 1992. Clearly, Maine voters will vote for candidates not of the two parties. The two parties have no business making it so difficult.
A new Legislature convenes early next month. The first few weeks of a session are devoted to committee appointments, establishing rules and procedures and other housekeeping measures -- the perfect occasion for cleaning up this little stain on Maine's ballot laws. There is, after all, a distinct difference between being in control and being obsessed with it.
This article is reprinted with the permission of the Bangor Daily News.
Where you live, are some political parties artificially restricted from participating in elections? What would it be like in a perfect democracy?
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