Winning votes is only the last hurdle for US minor parties
Oct 28, 2008, 14:58 GMT
US Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama greeets supporters before delivering a speech to a crowd of about 5,000 at the Canton Memorial Civic Center in Canton, Ohio, USA, 27 October 2008. Life is not so easy for candidates outside of the big two parties, with many US states imposing very high hurdles on entry to the ballot. EPA/DAVID MAXWELL
Washington - Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain could have been left off the presidential ballot in Texas, where state law required parties to deliver written certification of their nominees by 70 days before the November 4 elections.
With unusually late conventions this year, both major-party candidates accepted their nominations only days after Texas' August 26 deadline.
The presidential campaign of candidate Bob Barr, nominee of the Libertarian Party, filed suit to force state officials to remove McCain and Obama from the Texas ballot. The Texas Supreme Court quickly denied Barr's motion without explanation.
'Third parties are never given second chances when it comes to getting on the ballot,' said Russell Verney, Barr's campaign manager. 'And third parties are often thrown off the ballot for the most minor infractions of ballot access laws. In Texas, we have a clear deadline that was not met by the Republicans and Democrats.'
Barr, who will be on ballots as the candidate of the free-market, social liberal third party in 45 of the 50 states, himself missed filing deadlines in four other states.
'When the major parties break the law, they're forgiven,' said Richard Winger, an expert on US election laws and activist for easing ballot access to third parties and independent candidates.
'The double standard is just crushingly obvious this year.'
The United States and Switzerland are the only democracies without centralized election processes. US federalism produces a crazy quilt of election laws, with each state imposing its own rules and requirements.
'The worst state' for third party presidential candidates is Oklahoma, where only Obama and McCain will be on the ballot, said Winger, who often assists candidates in lawsuits to press for better ballot access.
Tough requirements for campaigns to collect voter signatures, early filing deadlines and sometimes steep fees heavily deter candidates outside the major parties. But in most states, Republican and Democratic nominees automatically qualify for the ballot on the basis of their parties' performance in recent elections.
This year in Maine, an independent US Senate candidate met the state deadline to turn in 4,000 signatures, but town clerks statewide were unable to check all the signatures on her petitions in time. In court, a judge struck the candidate from the ballot, ruling that she should have anticipated the bureaucracy's needs and filed her signatures before the deadline.
The justification for most ballot barriers, such as high signature requirements and early filing dates, is to prevent ballot crowding.
'And yet that doesn't happen in Canada and Great Britain,' Winger said. 'Both ... have scrupulously equal ballot access laws.'
In those countries, candidates face the same modest fee and signature requirements, whether from major parties, small parties or independents.
In 1992, billionaire Ross Perot mounted an independent US presidential campaign at his own expense, briefly ranking first in opinion polls and eventually winning 19 per cent of the vote, making him the strongest third-party presidential candidate in 80 years.
Anti-corporate activist Ralph Nader, running on the new Green Party ticket in 2000, won 2.74 per cent of the popular vote and was blamed by many Democrats for throwing a razor-thin victory to Republican George W Bush.
Nader, a left-wing consumer advocate, was on many state ballots again in 2004 but polled just 0.38 per cent nationwide, as Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry took 99 per cent of the vote in another close election.
Barr, a former Republican congressman from outside Atlanta, Georgia, has brought name recognition and a degree of mainstream credibility, but some Libertarians have questioned the conservative's recent conversion to their positions on issues such as civil liberties and decriminalizing marijuana.
Winger suggested that a 'developing wave' of dissatisfaction among Republicans with the McCain ticket could be unleashed on election day if the race looks to be turning into an Obama landslide.
If current signs of a widening margin for Obama hold up for the final week of the campaign, Winger believes that Nader, now running as an independent, and Barr could each reach 2 per cent. That would make 2008 the first election in 60 years in which the third- and fourth-place presidential candidates both collected at least 2 per cent in the national popular vote.
In all, four minor candidates are on ballots in at least 32 states each, enough to put all of them in front of voters who will choose a majority of the electoral college.
The others in the third-party top tier: Cynthia McKinney, a former Democratic congresswoman from Georgia, is the Green Party's 2008 nominee and best known nationally for questioning whether the government had advance knowledge of the 2001 terrorist attacks; Chuck Baldwin, a Florida Baptist minister and nominee of the right-wing Constitution Party, which is isolationist and anti-abortion.
Voters in some states have further presidential choices. The Western state of Nevada has for decades given its voters an additional choice of 'None of These Candidates.'