Do you know why Ralph Nader was not on North Carolina’s presidential ballot in 2000, and why he most likely won’t be again this year? Do you know why, in partisan races in North Carolina, you have no more than three choices — a Democrat, a Libertarian and a Republican?
North Carolina’s ballot-access restrictions are among the most oppressive in the U.S. It’s the fifth most difficult state in the country for a political party to gain initial ballot access and the fourth most difficult to keep it once gained, according to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News. In North Carolina, any party whose candidates for governor and president fail to garner 10 percent of the vote loses its access to the ballot — and to voters.
Suppose, for example, that a party’s candidates for governor and for president were both involved in a scandal. Their party could win, say, a U.S. Senate seat and a majority in the General Assembly and still lose ballot access because of the behavior of two individuals. And to regain that access, or to gain access to the N.C. ballot to begin with, a party must collect a specified number of petition signatures (2 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the previous election).
After the 2000 election, this magic number was nearly 60,000 “valid” signatures. And that brings up another hurdle, because the state also gets to count the signatures and write the petition — whose wording is so ambiguous that many are afraid to sign it. Worse yet, the signature line is so specific and so closely scrutinized that nearly 50 percent of the signatures collected by parties seeking ballot access are ruled “invalid” (usually for something as silly as writing down today’s date instead of one’s date of birth, or using a nickname rather than the voter’s name exactly as it appears in the Board of Elections database).
Nationwide, by the way, the average ballot-access requirements are much lower: Typically, parties seeking a slot on the ballot are required to collect petition signatures equaling just 0.5 percent of the vote total for the governor’s race. And to retain ballot access, a given party’s candidate in any statewide election must draw just 2 percent of the vote.
The bottom line is exactly that — the bottom line. After the 2000 election, the Libertarian Party of North Carolina had to spend nearly $100,000 to regain ballot access. It’s the only alternative party that has consistently climbed this high wall and actually made it over.
That $100,000 could have elected three Libertarians to the General Assembly; instead, it merely reserved our spot on the ballot. And that’s the point — this is one more way that those in power stay in power! We need to breach this oppressive barrier!
The N.C. House now has two speakers, in direct violation of the state constitution. (Since the 2002 election cycle, the House has been exactly split — 60 Democrats and 60 Republicans — so they decided to “share” the speakership.) And these two speakers are the most powerful people in our state, because even though they don’t directly control how House members vote, they do dictatorially control what the House gets to vote on.
Last year, I was involved in writing a bill — along with many other Libertarians and Greens, and 12 brave Democrats and Republicans. The Electoral Fairness Act (HB 867) seeks to bring North Carolina’s ballot-access requirements in line with the national average. And Richard Morgan — the Republican half of this two-headed, unconstitutional speakership — showed his lack of respect for the power of the people by telling me, in an e-mail:
“I believe that the current threshold for establishment of a political party is sufficient. By requiring a minimum of 2 percent of active voters to sign a petition creating a political party, North Carolina maintains stability within its political system. Although there are some legitimate political parties in existence that have not yet met this threshold in North Carolina, there are even more parties that are illegitimate that this policy has been able to keep at bay.”
Can you imagine? This one man believes he has the right, and even the ability, to “keep at bay” the voters of North Carolina from what he considers “illegitimate” means of political expression! This contradicts everything this nation and this state stand for!
The people are not stupid. Politicians like Morgan and his Democrat counterpart, Speaker Jim Black, demonstrated their belief that they are smarter than the people by refusing to allow the Electoral Fairness Act to be heard. But to me, Morgan’s refusal is worse, because it directly violates the platform of the North Carolina Republican Party. I can assure you that if an officer of the Libertarian Party of this state took public action so dramatically in conflict with our platform, they would be removed from any leadership position as quickly as due process allowed!
(At this year’s GOP state convention, the Republican leadership removed Morgan from the party’s executive committee. I commend them for this principled action; Morgan, however, is still co-speaker of the House.)
But the real question is, how do we fix the deeper problem?
There are several ways. First, call your representatives in Raleigh; tell them North Carolina’s ballot-access hurdle is oppressive and must be changed. Ask them to tell the speakers that they want a chance to vote on the Electoral Fairness Act (HB 867). Second, go to Raleigh and tell these folks in person (and with the short session likely to end in early July, the time to do these things is now). Third, tell everyone you know about this problem and how to help fix it. Fourth, register to vote. And fifth, once you’re registered, actually go out and vote every chance you get!
Of course, as ballot-access director for the Libertarian Party of North Carolina, I hope you register and vote Libertarian. A vote for Barbara Howe, the Libertarian candidate for governor, would strike a blow for unrestricted access to the ballot. If she collects at least 10 percent of the vote, we won’t be forced to waste those resources petitioning!
But whatever your politics, I encourage you to find a party or individual candidates or a combination of the two that you believe in and help them get elected. Read each party’s platform, compare it to party members’ actual behavior — and then compare both to your own view of the world. Ask the hard questions. Read everything you can find about what “your government” is doing, and compare that to what it’s supposed to do. Read the Constitution (and North Carolina’s too); that’s what made me decide to become an active Libertarian.
And if your beliefs lead you to support Democrats, or Republicans, or Greens (except you can’t, because of North Carolina’s ballot-access laws), or Constitution Party candidates (oops, same problem), or those representing the Southern Party (those pesky N.C. statutes again), that’s great — just go and vote!
[Asheville resident Dave Goree is a racing engineer, flight instructor and the owner of Energy-Liberty Inc. He serves on the Executive Committee of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina.]