Today’s guest poster is Mik Robertson on how the requirement for a £500 deposit and ten signatures is positively open compare to the United States
The United States is often touted as a shining example of how representative government and a democratic electoral process should work, particularly by those who govern there. A closer look does reveal some significant problems, though.
As chairman of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania, I have encountered some serious barriers to participation in the electoral process that affect not only our candidates, and any candidate who is not associated with one of the two big political parties, but the democratic process itself. Ultimately the voters lose out by not having choices on the ballot, and political discourse becomes severely limited.
The elections laws in Pennsylvania have some unique features that make being a candidate in the commonwealth more difficult than elsewhere, but there are also problems found in many other states. This look at a couple issues may show how even an apparently well-functioning democratic system can be manipulated and controlled.
First of all, Pennsylvania has a particularly stringent requirement to be considered a political party. At least 15% of all registered voters must register with the party to count. If places like Massachusetts had this requirement, the Republican Party would not be considered a political party, and if places like Utah had this requirement, the Democratic Party would not be considered one. Those two are the only recognized political parties in Pennsylvania.
Further, Pennsylvania has what is called a closed primary election, where only those voters registered with a recognized political party can participate, and only with their registered party. This is a publicly-funded nomination process for two political parties.
Candidates who go through the primary election are required to file valid signatures of registered voters in order for their names to appear on the nomination ballot. The number of signatures required may vary from ten for a municipal office to several hundred for a district state legislative, one thousand congressional office up to two thousand for a statewide office like Governor or US Senator. Once nominated, those candidates are automatically placed on the November election ballot.
The Libertarian Party, considered a political body in Pennsylvania, nominates its candidates at its own expense. Additional signatures are required for these nominees, and any other alternative candidate, in order to appear on the November election ballot. At least 2% of the highest vote-getter in that district from the previous election is required, with the minimum number being that for the same office on the primary election nomination ballot.
For local offices, this means our nominees often have to collect 50% to 100% more signatures than a candidate on the primary ballot. For district races our nominees usually need three to five times as many signatures, and for statewide office ten to over thirty times the number of signatures can be required. Generally, an alternative candidate for statewide office in Pennsylvania would need around 25,000 to 30,000 signatures to appear on the election ballot, but in 2006 that number was over 67,000 signatures.
Once submitted, signatures are then subject to a challenge process whereby they undergo a strict technical review if an objection is raised. Signers are required to complete their printed name, signature, address and date all in their own hand. If any information was determined to be written by another, the signature will be disqualified. If any information is determined to be illegible, the signature will be disqualified. If the signer uses a nickname (like Joe if the voter registration was signed Joseph) the signature will be disqualified, as it will be if they put the month and day for the date but not the year, or if they have moved and have not updated their voter registration address.
If the candidate fails to demonstrate that enough valid signatures remain to be placed on the ballot, that candidate can be assessed the costs to conduct the review of the signatures. Ralph Nader in 2004 and Carl Romanelli in 2006 were each assessed in excess of $80,000 in fees after being removed from the ballot in Pennsylvania.
The extra burden placed on alternative candidates and the assessment of fees if those candidates fail to withstand a challenge has a chilling effect on the democratic process. Restrictive and unfair ballot access laws result not only in limited choices for voters, but when coupled with gerrymandered election districts and campaign finance laws, in a closed political system that can be dominated and controlled by two political machines with largely the same interests.
Alternative ideas are then no longer included in the electoral discussions, and partisan vitriol replaces reason as the two parties try to show there are some significant differences between them from which people can choose. We can see this now developing in the US. In the end, the illusion of a democratic process is all that will remain.
Michael J “Mik” Robertson
Chairman Pennsylvania Libertarian Party