Category Archives: Electoral Reform

On Ballot Signatures and Disenfranchisement

[I hadn't intended this post to be MY first post of the year, but so be it.]

A friend of mine posted a link to Virginia State Officials Confirm: Gingrich Campaign Being Investigated for ‘Illegal Acts’ recently. Apparently someone in Gingrich's campaign may have created 1500 allegedly fraudulent signatures. More than likely this will get a lot of play among left blogs as a Republican ACORN fraud.

I would love to go there and the pretzels the Republicans will be twisting themselves into to try to cover their keisters will be quite sweet. But, being a Pirate Party advocate and former Green, I want to take a step back.

Ballot access is an issue that is close to my heart, so when I hear that 1500 signatures were allegedly fraudulent, I start to wonder.

Getting on the ballot is difficult. I have been through three signature drives to get 10,000 valid voter signatures Massachusetts-wide. In 2002, we had at most three months to gather all of the signatures. That time we had slightly more than a handful of organizers who were paid. In 2000 and 2006, we had fewer staff to organize the signature drive. Most of the effort was done by volunteers.

Since many people put down the wrong address for where they are registered or write in Mickey Mouse, we always aimed for 15,000 raw signatures to be sure we had enough. If we were close, then we knew our signatures would get challenged and we would likely not get on the ballot.

Indeed, in 2004 in Pennsylvania, Ralph Nader did not get on the ballot when his signatures were challenged. His campaign gathered 51,273 signatures, about two times the 25,697 signatures required. Amazingly after the challenge, he had 18,818 remaining. If that wasn't bad enough, Pennsylvania's challenge process requires lawyers and judges to review every signature.

When Nader didn't have enough signatures to qualify, he got the privilege of being ordered to pay the cost of those judges and lawyers.  He had to pay over $89,000 to cover the cost of the challenge.  

Let me rephrase that.  He was ordered to pay over $89,000 for his own disenfranchisement.

It turns out the Democrats were using state house workers on the public dime to comb the petitions and find signatures to challenge. Highly illegal and completely unethical, but after news of it came out, Nader was still required to pay his fine.

In Nader's case, the judges in question called his signature drive fraudulent, though a more sober review noted that at most 1.3% could be termed fraudulent and he and his campaign were never charged with voter fraud.  At least one Democrat, however, was convicted of illegal activities in challenging his signatures.  Hopefully, there will be more who pay the price for disenfranchising Nader.

This process was repeated in 2006 when US Senate Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli filed 100,000 signatures. He needed over 67,000 signatures while the Republicans and Democrats needed only 2,000 signatures to get on the ballot. His signatures got challenged and they were able to remove enough signatures to prevent the voters from having the opportunity to select him on the ballot. He was charged over $80,000 for being disenfranchised. [Reference] The Democrats illegally used state resources to challenge Romanelli's petitions as well.

Lets not forget that one of the ways Obama got his State Senate seat was to challenge the signatures of his opponents and get them knocked off the ballot. The Oklahoma ballot signature requirements are so high that there hasn't been a third party candidate in decades.

Darryl Perry has studied how our ballot access laws have aided incumbents since the states took over printing ballots and so deciding who could be on them. He compared the number of candidates in our elections and their probability of getting reelected with Canada, which has easier ballot access laws. The reelection rate since 1950 for the US House of Representatives is 85%, while that for the Canadian Parliament is 60%. That stat comes from a review of his Duopoly book in the January 2012 Ballot Access News.

It is certainly possible that one or more Gingrich staff people, volunteer or paid signature gatherer fraudulently signed 1500 voters on Gingrich's nomination papers.  It's also possible that Gingrich's campaign just didn't gather enough signatures to deal with the inevitable errors that voters make when signing nomination papers.

However, the next time someone gloats about a candidate committing "ballot fraud" , I always remember how many times those with power have used the ballot laws to keep voters from having the opportunity to vote for candidates who were willing to run.

Make it easier to get on the ballot and the "fraud" will go away.

Rethinking how California elects its legislature

The New American Foundation just put out one method that California could use to make its legislature more representative (pdf).  It looks like a regional form of mixed member proportional representation (MMPR).  MMPR is used by Germany to elect the Bundestag (i.e. parliament), and by number of other countries such as New Zealand, and in Scotland and Wales.  Various Canadian provinces have entertained adopting it as well.  I highly recommend that folks read the report if they are interested in changing our seriously flawed electoral system.   

Thoughts on the Fair Elections Financing Act

Someone asked me what I thought about about the Fair Elections Financing Act .  On a first read through and based on my experience running under the Clean Elections Law in 2002, the proposed law has serious flaws. 

Problems with the Clean Election Law

First problems with the previous and now dead Clean Elections law:

1.  While there was a significant amount of money available, if you didn’t qualify, and it isn’t easy to qualify, you were stuck.  Either, you run under the individual contribution limits, look like you are
sticking to your principles and raise little money or you chuck the limits and look like an inexperienced opportunist.

2.  Most voters don’t pay attention to campaigns until Sept., but the law required that a candidate be certified in April/May.  The primary isn’t even until Sept.  Setting things up this way helps people who already have a large network, or are willing to sacrifice everything for the first part of the year to build a network.  If you have a family & job, i.e. are a citizen who isn’t an activist, you don’t have
the time for this and you might as well not apply.

3.  It was never clear to me how a write-in candidate qualifies. Looks like they don’t.  Another strike against the now defunct system.

What is different with the new proposed law

The new system still suffers from these problems, but adds an additional hurdle to qualify (the aggregate contribution threshold) and doesn’t give you much money to run a campaign. 

The aggregate contribution threshold requires that in addition to a state rep. candidate getting 200 people to give a contribution, she also has to raise a total of $5000.  For state senate, both requirements are doubled.

Under the Clean Elections Law a candidate would get a large amount of money if they had a primary opponent and more if they had a general election opponent.  The proposed law would limit the amount given out to three dollars for every one dollar the candidate raises.  Under this scheme, it is unclear to me how a candidate gets more public money after they comply should they raise more money.

How I would make the proposed law better

Since the law changes from a lump sum to a matching format, which is a reasonable, though not ideal change, I would suggest that the law give people much more time to qualify, drop the aggregate contribution limit and drop the established opponent requirement.

1.  How about a candidate can qualify up to two weeks (a month max) before general election day?  If you cannot get things organized before then, well sorry, the OCPF (the nice folks who oversee the Commonwealth’s election laws) needs to be able to process the paperwork.  If you do not make it past the primary, then less paperwork, unless you mount a write-in campaign.

This way, write-ins get supported, candidates have more time to get organized and more people will be encouraged to run.

2.  I would also drop the aggregate contribution threshold.  If some state rep candidate gets 200 people to give them $5, then the max the state is out is $3000.  No great loss to the Commonwealth considering the money we waste in corporate subsidies and tax loopholes.  Indeed it would still take 5 such candidates to use the same amount of money as one candidate under the proposed aggregate contribution threshold.  However, my guess with our winner take all election system (whomever has the most votes wins even if that isn’t a majority), having an incumbent face five poorly financed opponents in a primary is more likely to unseat the incumbent than one moderately financed opponent.

3.  Drop the requirement to have an established opponent.  I would rather that some Dem has no opponent and gets clean election money (the remainder they have to give back at the end of the election anyway), then some Dem has no opponent and takes boat loads of money from developers and the rich so they can amass a war chest.  If they use too much public money, well then their opponent can use that against them in two years.  This way also does not penalize a complying candidate who faces a serious write-in candidate coming in at the last minute.

Those are my thoughts for now.

Why Fusion is still a dead end.

jflashmontana stated that my first two objections to the MA fusion ballot initiative were incorrect and looking at the revised ballot initiative, he is correct.  My mistake, glad to see that they listened to my comments when this ballot initiative was first put forth.  However, political designations do not have state committees as legal entities, so how party oversight works for them is unclear. 

Additionally, the description on the Sec. of the Commonwealth’s web site is not clear whether the state party can choose another candidate or can only object to the winner.

Still, these changes alter point 3 only partially.  If a "Working Families" party got the "progressive Dem" and the Democrats got the "conservative Dem", they would still be left with the issue of do they endorse the "progressive Dem", run no one, or, if this is allowed, put the "conservative Dem" on because the Republican is so bad, thus subverting the will of their own voters.

Fusion also does not change the more fundamental issue which is:

How does a party advance its ideas if they endorse the candidates of other parties and not their own parties?

Debates can be pretty important, as well as candidate advertising and events.  Having your own candidate helps to get your ideas across to a wide group of people.  I am sure that grassroots door-knocking can be effective, and have seen Greens and others use it effectively.  However, having someone articulate your parties ideals along with grassroots door-knocking seems more effective than just grassroots door-knocking for another party’s candidate.

I checked as jflashmontana suggested.  A lot of good comments on the problems with Fusion and how IRV is a better approach.  Thanks for the link.

The deadend of fusion

A bunch of unions are trying to get a ballot initiative on the 2006 Massachsetts ballot that will implement fusion (aka cross-endorsement voting) in Massachusetts.  The Working Families Party has used it in New York and is trying to export it to Massachusetts and other New England states.

The fusion ballot initiative is poorly thought out.  A couple of problems:

  1. It is entirely possible for a candidate to win all ballot-status party primaries, and be placed on the ballot under a party designation. 
    If you think this is far fetched, just look at the 2004 Nantucket County Sheriff race where Richard M. Bretschneider ran as a write-in candidate in all four party primaries.  While the Green-Rainbow and Libertarian Party primaries were uncontested, the Democratic and Republican primaries were very contested with five and four candidates respectively.  Mr. Bretschneider won all four party primaries. 
    If Fusion had been in place, and there were no independents, then he could have run unopposed.  If you don’t think this is a problem, then consider that in this situation a minority of voters would have chosen the only candidate to appear on the ballot in the general election.  While other candidates could run as write-ins, write-in campaigns are very difficult, especially in the general election.
  2. Since there is no party oversight of who is on its primary ballot (except for the constitutional offices were it is pretty difficult just to get on the ballot), it is entirely possible for a monied, conservative Democrat to get on the Green-Rainbow party primary and if we don’t run a candidate, be our nominee
    whether we like it or not.  After all there isn’t a None of the Above option on the ballot. Party identify and self-determination go out the window.
  3. Fusion will not perform as expected for a "Working Families" type party.  In a highly contested Democratic primary, mutiple Democratic candidates may decide to contest the "Working Families" primary.  What happens if the two primaries pick different Democratic candidates?  Does the "Working Families" candidate not run if there is a Republican in the general election.  What if the conservative
    Dem. wins the "Working Families" primary, the "progressive" Dem. wins the Democratic primary and the conservative Dem. decides to contest the general election?

Prior to the Working Families Party, fusion resulted in insider deals with "minor parties" that could bring votes to one of the major parties.  Thanks, but we don’t need more corrupt politics.

The Dems control the Massachusetts legislature with over 80+% of the seats and the best we get on the Health Care front is a mandatory "low cost" health care.  I doubt that fusion will change much in politics when most races are uncontested or practically uncontested.

NY is different from MA.  The election laws aren’t the same and the politics aren’t the same. 

True electoral reform would be Instant Runoff Voting and Proportional Representation, not some 19th century electoral system that is not used anywhere else in the world and makes minor parties dependent on the "major parties".