Maryland Outlaws Fusion

On March 31, the Maryland legislature passed Senate Bill 129 on an emergency basis. Since it is an emergency bill, it takes effect immediately and does not need approval by the Governor. It outlaws fusion in federal elections. It also codifies the court decision Maryland Green Party v Bd. of Elections. That decision, issued in 2003, struck down the need for qualified minor parties to submit petitions for their nominees, and was a great ballot access victory.

Although Maryland has outlawed fusion in state elections for decades, a loophole in the law seemed to permit fusion for congressional and presidential elections. That loophole is now closed.

Although it is disappointing that federal fusion no longer exists in Maryland, the other part of the bill is beneficial. When a court strikes down a ballot access restriction, it is always useful to have the legislature then amend the law to reflect the court decision, to avoid confusion. In Pennsylvania, during the last 21 years, six different ballot access restrictions have been struck down by federal courts, and yet the Pennsylvania legislature has not amended the election code to reflect any of these decisions.

Alabama Instant-Runoff Voting Bill Fails to Pass

South Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana all provide for Instant-Runoff Voting in party primaries, for overseas absentee ballots. A bill to do the same in Alabama had passed the Alabama House on March 16. However, the Alabama Senate refused to consider the bill, and it cannot now pass. Instead, the Alabama legislature passed SB 529 and sent it to the Governor.

SB 529 expands the time interval between the first primary and the run-off primary, from 3 weeks, to 6 weeks. The whole motivation for southern states to use IRV had been that there isn’t enough time to send ballots back and forth between Alabama and overseas locations (southern states are the only states that hold run-off primaries). So, the Alabama legislature solved the problem in an unimaginative manner, unlike the legislatures of three of her sister states in the south.

Republicans Set Late 2008 Convention

On April 7, the Republican Party announced that its 2008 presidential convention will be September 1-September 4. This is the latest major party presidential convention in U.S. history. The previous latest convention ever had been the Republican 2004 convention, Aug. 31-Sep. 3. Democrats last year had chosen their 2008 dates, Aug. 25-Aug. 28, 2008.

These late major party dates will make it even more difficult for states to justify early petition deadlines, since obviously states won’t be able to start printing November ballots until after September 4.

Missouri Bill Advances

On March 28, the Missouri State Senate unanimously passed SB 276. It now goes to the House. It fixes an irritating typographical error in the Missouri ballot access reform bill of 1993. The way it is supposed to work is that in Missouri, a group that wants to become a qualified party circulates a petition. If it gets 10,000 valid signatures, it is then a qualified party, and free to nominate by convention for any partisan office in the state. The problem is that the error forces such a group to list candidates for presidential elector in its party petition. This deprives the group of the flexibility to decide later whether to run a presidential candidate, and if so, who it wants to run for president.

Pennsylvania Ballot Access Opinion is Flawed

The federal court decision upholding Pennsylvania’s ballot access petition requirements for qualified minor parties is flawed. The judge didn’t even mention the only on-point precedent in favor of the plaintiffs. That precedent is from Maryland’s highest state court, and is called Maryland Green Party v Bd. of Elections. It was issued in 2003. Although the Maryland case is not binding on a federal court in Pennsylvania, it is influential. The fact that the Pennsylvania judge didn’t even mention it shows that he did not read the briefs thoroughly.

The Pennsylvania judge also failed to mention the most useful US Supreme Court ballot access precedent, Illinois State Board of Elections v Socialist Workers Party. In that decision, issued in 1979, the Supreme Court said lower court judges are supposed to use common sense when they evaluate petition requirements. In the Illinois case, the Court thought it was foolish of Illinois to require a petition signed by 5% of the last vote cast, for Cook County office, when that resulted in a signature requirement of over 40,000 signatures. That was because Illinois only required 25,000 signatures for statewide office.

The facts in the Pennsylvania current case are not the same, but the logic is the same. Pennsylvania already has a fairly stringent definition of “party,” and in the last 80 years, there has never been a time when there were more than 5 qualified parties in Pennsylvania (the state’s definition of “party” has been unchanged since 1893).

The Pennsylvania judge used “ballot clutter” to uphold the requirement that even the qualified minor parties must submit tens of thousands of signatures for their nominees. Yet the evidence in front of him told him that there are only 5 qualified parties (Democratic, Republican, Constitution, Green and Libertarian). Five parties does not make a “cluttered” ballot. A US Supreme Court concurring opinion in 1968 said that having 8 parties on the ballot does not harm the voter and does not result in ballot clutter. The Pennsylvania judge didn’t mention that case, either (Williams v Rhodes).