Illinois Bill Passes

On May 28, Saturday, the Illinois legislature gave final approval to HB 1968. Among other provisions, it reduces the signature requirements for citywide office in Chicago, from 25,000 signatures, to 12,500 signatures.

The citywide Chicago offices have been conducted on a non-partisan basis starting in 1999. Back when these offices were partisan, only minor party and independent candidates needed 25,000 signatures to run for Mayor and the other citywide Chicago offices. By contrast, Democrats only needed about 3,000 signatures, and Republicans only needed about 1,000 signatures.

But when the 1995 legislature switched these offices to be non-partisan, the new law was carelessly drafted, and suddenly all candidates, even major party members, needed 25,000. Now that everyone had to get 25,000 signatures, good-government groups began criticizing the requirement. Finally, the legislature has responded to the criticism and cut the requirement in half.

Iran Politician Criticizes U.S. Ballot Access Laws

The May 25 New York Times carries a story about Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, considered the front-runner in the Iran presidential election next month. Rafsanjani is quoted as saying, “There is only a veneer of democracy in the United States. Election laws are so complicated that people have no choice but to vote for one of the candidates who are with one of the two parties.”

Minnesota Eases Definition of "party"

On May 23, the Minnesota legislature passed HF 1481, which adds another means for a group to gain or keep qualified party status. The bill says a group is a qualified party if it runs at least 45 candidates for state house, 23 for state senate, 4 for US House, and one statewide office (all in a gubernatorial election year). It doesn’t matter how many or how few votes they poll; just running this number of candidates gives a group qualified status for the next 4 years.

The old law says a party is either a group that polled 5% for any statewide race (at either of the last two elections), or which submits a petition signed by 5% of the last vote cast. In Minnesota, groups that use the independent procedure can choose a partisan label. Historically, in Minnesota, every time a group has gained status as a qualified party in Minnesota, it has been by running an independent candidate with a partisan label, and having that candidate poll 5%. Independent candidates only need 2,000 signatures.

The 5% petition procedure, passed in 1913, is so difficult, it has never been used, but that doesn’t matter so much, since there has been another way to become a qualified party. And now, there are two other ways to become a qualified party.

It is no easy task for any group to run 73 candidates for state office, especially if it isn’t already a qualified party. For a group that isn’t already a qualified party, the group will need 73 different independent petitions, which cumulatively adds up to 40,000 signatures, which must all be collected in a 2-week window. So the practical impact of the new procedure will probably not be very great.

The motivation for the new law seems to be a Republican Party attempt to encourage lots of Green candidates. The Green Party losts its status as a party in 2004 because it had failed to poll 5% for any statewide race in either 2002 or 2004. The Green Party did not ask for this particular bill and was just as surprised as everyone else when the legislature passed the idea.

Minnesota Eases Definition of “party”

On May 23, the Minnesota legislature passed HF 1481, which adds another means for a group to gain or keep qualified party status. The bill says a group is a qualified party if it runs at least 45 candidates for state house, 23 for state senate, 4 for US House, and one statewide office (all in a gubernatorial election year). It doesn’t matter how many or how few votes they poll; just running this number of candidates gives a group qualified status for the next 4 years.

The old law says a party is either a group that polled 5% for any statewide race (at either of the last two elections), or which submits a petition signed by 5% of the last vote cast. In Minnesota, groups that use the independent procedure can choose a partisan label. Historically, in Minnesota, every time a group has gained status as a qualified party in Minnesota, it has been by running an independent candidate with a partisan label, and having that candidate poll 5%. Independent candidates only need 2,000 signatures.

The 5% petition procedure, passed in 1913, is so difficult, it has never been used, but that doesn’t matter so much, since there has been another way to become a qualified party. And now, there are two other ways to become a qualified party.

It is no easy task for any group to run 73 candidates for state office, especially if it isn’t already a qualified party. For a group that isn’t already a qualified party, the group will need 73 different independent petitions, which cumulatively adds up to 40,000 signatures, which must all be collected in a 2-week window. So the practical impact of the new procedure will probably not be very great.

The motivation for the new law seems to be a Republican Party attempt to encourage lots of Green candidates. The Green Party losts its status as a party in 2004 because it had failed to poll 5% for any statewide race in either 2002 or 2004. The Green Party did not ask for this particular bill and was just as surprised as everyone else when the legislature passed the idea.

US Supreme Court Rules Against Oklahoma Libertarian Party

On May 23, the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma state law, against a Libertarian Party challenge. Specifically the court upheld a law that does not permit a qualified party to invite members of other parties to vote in its primary. The vote was 6-3. Justice Thomas wrote the opinion.

However, two of the Justices who voted to uphold the law, Justices O’Connor and Breyer, wrote separately to say that state laws that make it difficult for minor parties and independents to get on the ballot may very well be unconstitutional. O’Connor wrote that if all the election laws of Oklahoma that impact on minor parties had been brought into the case at the first stage, the decision might well have been different. This is the first time Justice O’Connor has expressed any sympathy or interest in minor party ballot access problems.

The 3 dissenting justices (Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg) also were critical of state election laws that make it difficult for minor parties and independent candidates to get on the ballot or otherwise carry out successful election campaigns. Therefore, an actual majority of the court (the 2 concurrers, and the 3 dissenters) have now expressed support for attempts to strike down restrictive ballot access laws. This is the first time a majority of the Court has been sympathetic to minor parties since 1992.

Also on May 23, the US Supreme Court refused to hear Ralph Nader’s ballot access case against Oregon, Kucera v Bradbury. Justice Breyer voted to hear it, but it takes 4 justices to agree to hear a case.