Libertarians to appeal ballot-access ruling
The Journal Record by Marie Price
OKLAHOMA CITY Ė The recent appellate court ruling upholding Oklahoma's ballot-access law will be taken to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, says an official with the Oklahoma Libertarian Party. "We're going to appeal the decision," said party Chairman Jimmy Cook, Tulsa.
Tulsa attorney James Linger said the appeal will be filed within a week or so.
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals recently turned down the party's claim that the state's requirements for gaining recognition as a political party are unconstitutionally restrictive.
Michael Clingman, secretary of the State Election Board, said that to gain recognition, party officials must file petitions with voter signatures equal to 5 percent of those voting for governor or president in the last general election. To remain on the ballot, he said, a new party's candidate for governor or president must draw at least 10 percent of the vote in the next election.
"I think it's a pretty high standard, looking at other states," said Clingman. "They do have a high burden."
That burden is too great, Cook said.
"It's recognized by most organizations as being the most difficult state to get on the ballot," he said.
Clingman said he does not think Oklahoma's is the toughest restriction, but said it may be in the top 10.
Cook said Oklahoma was in line with surrounding states until 1974, when the law was changed.
According to information from Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform, before 1974, achieving recognition as a party in Oklahoma required only 5,000 signatures.
Before the law change, Oklahoma ballots included candidates from the Socialist, Prohibition and American parties, among others.
These drives leave little time or money for third-party candidates to run successful campaigns, Cook added.
"Most of us donít have time to then run and become viable candidates, which I think is the whole purpose," he said.
In recent years, Libertarian candidates have been on the ballot at least three times in Oklahoma, Reform Party candidates twice.
"We've done it, but it's extremely difficult," Cook said.
Mounting a successful drive requires either numerous volunteers or paying people to circulate petitions, he said.
In 2004, Cook said, recognition required more than 51,000 valid signatures. He said the party would have needed about 75,000 raw signatures to account for duplicates and others that would be disallowed. At about $1 per signature, the party would need at least $75,000, just to pay circulators, he said.
"It's very expensive for us to do," said Cook.
Legislation was filed in both houses this session that would have reduced the 5-percent requirement to a flat 5,000 valid voter signatures for party recognition. The 10-percent requirement for continued recognition would have dropped to 1 percent of the vote.
The legislation would have also allowed presidential candidates not from recognized parties to appear on the ballot if they file petitions bearing 5,000 valid voter signatures or pay a filing fee of $5,000. Current law requires petitions with valid signatures equal to 3 percent of the votes cast for president at the last general election.
Neither measure made it out of committee.
Clingman said he understands there was some fear that the filing-fee provision could lead to a crowded presidential ballot. However, he said such matters are for the Legislature to decide.
Cook sees another reason for the legislation's problems.
"Most Democratic and Republican politicians see it as a threat," Cook said. "They don't really want third parties on the ballot. So, it's going to be assigned to a committee where it's not going to see the light of day again."
State Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, sponsored the Senate legislation to lower the party-recognition requirements.
"A lot of people on both sides of the aisle, in my party and the Democrat Party, do not want to have easier access to the ballot," he said. "We have basically a two-party system that a lot of people like, and are content with that."
Brogdon said he believes competition fosters excellence in all areas of life.
"No one else can get their turn," he said. "I'm not sure that's the best system available."
Brogdon said many other states are more open to allowing third-party ideas to be part of the debate.
He said he looked at other states' requirements and thinks he crafted a logical measure that is not too intrusive, but would keep non-serious candidates off the ballot.
"I'll try to get it heard next year," he said. "Maybe we'll have it in time for the '08 elections.Ē
One criticism of loosening the requirements is that it may lead to an overload of candidates, Cook said.
"Before the law was changed, we never had more than four presidential candidates on the ballot, anyway, so thatís not really the issue," Cook said.
Attorney Linger said that in 2004, the number of signatures required for recognition was very high, as it was based on the high-turnout 2002 gubernatorial election.
"No one had ever been able to reach that high a number of signatures," Linger said.
Linger said the average party-recognition signature requirement is between 0.5 percent and 1 percent of the vote, with only two or three states as high as 2.5 percent.
Due to changes in primary election dates, he said, the deadline was also accelerated.
However, Clingman said the appeals court seemed to recognize that new-party organizations still have sufficient time for their signature drives.
Linger said, "Oklahoma has not been overrun by third parties."
He said that in 2004, Oklahoma was the only state in which people could vote only for President George W. Bush or U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Tom Daxon said he has not heard many complaints about the current law.
However, he said he can see how smaller groups seeking recognition might think otherwise.
"There certainly does need to be access for third parties," Daxon said.
Daxon also said it does not seem that Oklahomaís law would prevent other groups from forming new parties.
"Our system, the way it works, is naturally going to gravitate to a two-party system," he said.
Daxon noted that when the Republican Party replaced the Whigs, it was because the views of a significant part of the electorate were not being represented by existing political groups. That led to a major reorganization of the nationís political climate, he added.
"Absent that, itís going to be difficult for a third party, over a long period of time, to really play a significant role in our electoral process," Daxon said.
"If you have people that simply want to play the role of spoiler, I donít know that thatís necessarily in the public interest or what people would really want to see," he said. "At the same time, if there is a bona fide grass-roots movement, there needs to be an outlet for that."
Daxon pointed out that the Libertarians and other parties have been able to qualify for recognition in years past.
"It is difficult, and it should be difficult, but it is not impossible," he said.
Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Lisa Pryor was not immediately available for comment.
Libertarians may try to petition for ballot access in 2008.
Cook said the relatively small organization will have to rely on volunteers and donations and aid from the national party to run the drive
"It's always uphill," he said.
Cook said itís like a friend of his once said, "We're not really trying to get a level playing field. Weíre just trying to get them to let us in the park, just let us suit up and play."
We only get TWO choices?
Oklahoma voters were only TWO choices for President this year... Bush or Kerry.
How can this be?
As of election day 2004...
It's not for lack of third party activity. Libertarians and Greens both have strong state-wide parties and numerous local chapters. Other national parties have members here in Oklahoma as well.
The problem is our election laws. Oklahoma has arguably the most undemocratic ballot access laws in America with petitioning requirements of 51,781 signatures to secure full party ballot access and 37,027 signatures to place a Presidential candidate.
Click here to find out how you can join the campaign for FAIR and DEMOCRATIC ballot acccess laws.