by Ann Garrison
The two major parties maintain their duopoly, not just on the strength of corporate money, but by making it so hard for independent parties to get on the ballot. The author spoke to New Mexico activist and Stein campaign staffer Rick Lass about efforts to get the Green Party on the ballot in all 50 states. He reminded her that it also “takes an inspiring candidate with an organization to raise the funds and attract the volunteers needed to get on the ballot.”
Green Party Seeks 2016 Ballot Access in all 50 States, an Interview with Rick Lass
by Ann Garrison
This article previously appeared in Counterpunch.
“Ballot access shouldn't be so daunting to parties outside the Democrat and Republican duopoly.”
On June 5th, the Nevada Green Party and the Jill Stein for President 2016 campaign filed petitions to qualify for the Nevada ballot in November. Stein thanked all those who helped collect signatures, including Bernie Sanders’ supporters who were alienated by Nevada’s controversial nominating convention.
The Nevada Green Party was required to file 5,431 signatures. They filed 8,300 which will now be verified by county clerks and then sent to the Nevada Secretary of State. Nevada Greens and the Stein campaign believe that number ensures qualification even after some number of signatures have been invalidated by clerks comparing them to the voter rolls.
I spoke to New Mexico activist and Stein campaign staffer Rick Lass about petition drives and other efforts to get the Green Party on the ballot in all 50 states. Several generalizations were necessary because, to be absolutely precise, we would have to have 51 conversations about the byzantine ballot access barriers in most every state and Washington D.C. I hope to talk to Rick about the specifics of more state ballot access drives again as they progress.
Ann Garrison: Rick Lass, your campaign press release said that Green Party candidate Jill Stein will be on the ballot in 22 states. Could you give us an overview of your petition drives to get on the ballot in the other 28 states?
Rick Lass: Yes, we're actively petitioning in 25 and expect to be petitioning in all 28 very soon. We fully expect to get on the ballot in all but three states due to our petition drives, and in three states we'll probably litigate because their petition requirements are so onerous.
AG: And those three states are?
RL: North Carolina, Indiana and Oklahoma. And the most egregious example is North Carolina, which requires 89,000 signatures. We filed just under 12,000 signatures there on June 1st, and we expect that the state will reject them and that we'll have to go to court over this.
AG: Greens in the State of Georgia have had some success with this, right?
RL: Yes, there was a lawsuit that was settled about two months ago in which a federal judge ruled that the 54,000 signatures requirement was unconstitutionally high and reduced it to 7500. So Georgia Greens are very excited, and they're redoubling their efforts because what seemed like an impossible task is now very possible. We expect that we will file in Georgia with plenty of signatures in mid-July and that we’ll be on the ballot there.
AG: What about Washington D.C.?
RL: The DC Statehood Green Party is already on the ballot in Washington D.C.
AG: Why is it that the Green Party has to repeat so many of the ballot access drives of 2012, when it succeeded in 38 states?
RL: Well that's just one of the many obstacles that the major parties put up to voter choice, and so we may have to do it again in four years, even if we get on the ballot in all 50 states, because in most states, there's a vote test. If a Green candidate – frequently the candidate at the top of the ticket, the candidate for president, governor or other statewide office – doesn't get maybe one percent, maybe three, or maybe five percent, depending on the state, then that state’s election officials will disqualify us and we’ll have to start again from scratch the next time. This clearly never happens to the two major parties.
AG: California is one of the only states that has a Green Party primary. Five candidates, Darryl Cherney, SKCM Curry, William Kreml, Kent Mensplay and Jill Stein, competed in that primary, and Stein won with roughly 80% of the Green vote. Jill Stein’s organization seems to be leading these ballot access drives, even though the Green Party will not choose its presidential candidate until August 6th, midway through its August 4th to 7th convention in Houston. Could you talk about that?
RL: That’s true and I am actually working for the Stein campaign. It would be ideal if the Green Party were able to undertake these ballot access drives as such, but the reality is that it takes an inspiring candidate with an organization to raise the funds and attract the volunteers needed to get on the ballot.
Wherever we can, we qualify the Green Party, so that other Green candidates for state or local offices can also get their names on the ballot. However, in some cases, like Alaska, that hasn’t been possible. The signature requirement for qualifying a party in Alaska is 8500, and the deadline for that passed on May 2nd. The signature requirement to qualify an individual candidate is only 3000 and we are well on our way to getting Jill Stein on the ballot by the August 10th deadline.
AG: It's often argued that Greens should concentrate on local races for the school board, the city council, etcetera, instead of running presidential candidates. What's your response to that?
RL: Well there's a lot of merit to that regarding party building, but in most states, if you want to run local candidates, first you need to have the Green Party’s name on the ballot, you need to have a ballot line. And for that, most of those states require you to have a presidential or gubernatorial candidate who gets that one or three or five percent of the vote that we were just talking about. I would love to see state legislatures say, as Colorado does, "Hey, if you have a thousand registered voters in our state, then you're on the ballot. That's all you need, a thousand registered voters. You don't need to run candidates for president or governor." Ballot access shouldn't be so daunting to parties outside the Democrat and Republican duopoly.
In just about every other democracy in Latin America or Europe, voters expect to have four or five or six parties on the ballot. And those parties don't have to jump over hurdles like those here. People who want to keep Greens and other parties off the ballot claim that voters will be too confused by three or four or more ballot lines, but that’s ridiculous and insulting to the voters.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist living in Oakland, California.