October 13, 2009 in 2009 Fall Elections
Claims state rules hurt third parties and voters alike
On August 27 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Green Party of Arkansas (GPA) and Arkansas voters challenging the decertification of the Green Party by the Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels (D). The suit charges the state is denying First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights to not only minor parties to compete in the political arena, but the rights of voters to support candidates who represent their views.
The GPA has been actively fighting for ballot access in Arkansas since 2001. Two previous times it has won lawsuits concerning how one attains ballot access. But until now, no third/minor party has sued over the vote-test rule, which is how the state decides a party stays on the ballot.
Currently the rule is that no matter what a party achieves in an election or how many of its candidates are elected or how many votes it attains in statewide races, unless that party’s candidate for president or governor reaches three percent of the vote total, it will lose it’s ballot status. This forces the party into an expensive resource-depleting signature drive just to get on the ballot again.
The Democratic Party currently controls Arkansas politics. The Republican Party frequently does not field candidates for elective offices and the state leads the nation in the percentage of unopposed races at 70 percent. State Coordinator Mark Swaney said, “Arkansas is the classic case of there being NO CHOICE at the polls, and the Democratic Party clearly wants it that way.”
Earlier this year sympathetic lawmakers introduced state legislation, crafted by GPA, which would have amended the vote test law, but the Democratic leadership caught wind of the move and quashed it. Swaney said Democratic leaders admitted “they don’t want competition in state races. When there is a choice of candidates, it is usually between a conservative Republican and a conservative Dixiecrat – and they fight each other over who is the more conservative.”
ìThe Green Party clearly represents the interests of a large number of Arkansans,î said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas in the press release announcing the lawsuit. ìBut the Democratic and Republican parties have set up an unconstitutional system to deny ballot access to legitimate third parties that have substantial voter support in order to shield themselves from competition. Thatís just not the way democracy is supposed to work.î
Holly Dickson of the ACLU notes that the trend since 1968 has been to relax ballot restrictions. However, in Arkansas, the only time a minor party retained its ballot access after an election was when billionaire Reform Party presidential candidate H. Ross Perot got 7.9 percent of the vote in 1996. When the Reform Party’s gubernatorial candidate only received 1.59 percent of the vote in 1998, the Reform Party was decertified.
In the 2008 election, the Green Party put candidates up for offices, which would have only had a Democratic candidate otherwise. Most noteworthy was the candidacy of Rebekah Kennedy, who ran against incumbent Mark Pryor for the U.S. Senate. Kennedy received 206,504 votes for 20.54 percent of the vote. The lawsuit notes Kennedy and three other Greens running for U.S. House seats each received over 32,000 votes, which is equivalent to about six percent of the Arkansas presidential vote in 2008.
Swaney notes GPA has little control over the presidential candidate or whether that candidate campaigns in Arkansas. But in light of the support other GPA candidates for national office received, “the three percent requirement [for gubernatorial or presidential candidates] is a very poor test of whether a political party has a ‘modicum of support’, which is the only recognized legitimate purpose for the ballot law.”
Even more ironically, the decertification of the Green Party of Arkansas would be the first time since 1906 that a state has done that to a party AFTER one of its candidates successfully attained legislative office in the election. In 2008 Richard Carroll won the 39th district state house seat as a Green when he ran unopposed. He subsequently re-registered as a Democrat.
Clearly the Green Party of Arkansas has offered the voters of Arkansas more choice in the states elections. Hopefully the courts will see the wisdom that preserving choice in elections is key to having a democratic form of government.
ìThe Democratic and Republican parties have set up an unconstitutional system to deny ballot access to legitimate third parties Ö Thatís just not the way democracy is supposed to work.î Rita Sklar