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How the Indiana Democratic and Republican Parties Defeat Competition Before Election Day

Over the last century, Indiana lawmakers have made ballot access for independent and minor party candidates increasingly more difficult. By repeatedly amending state election laws since 1933, Indiana legislators, comprised almost entirely of members of the Democratic and Republican parties, have erected barriers to ballot access that are now nearly insurmountable.

Gradual Erosion of Ballot Access for Independents and “Minor” Parties

Prior to 1933, Indiana state law required an independent or minor party candidate for a state or federal office submit 500 signatures 20 days before the general election in November. Over the next 7 decades, the deadline for signature submission crept up to September 1st, then to July 15th. In 2001, Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon signed SB 329, which moved independent and minor party candidate signature petition deadlines to June 30th. These latest moves deprived citizens of the opportunity to gather signatures over the summer months where it is easier to find large crowds in public places such as state and county fairs, summer festivals, family gatherings and, ironically, 4th of July parades.

As lawmakers narrowed the signature-gathering window, they also increased the number of signatures required for anyone other than Democratic or Republican candidates to be on the ballot. The current formula for the number of signatures is 2% of the total votes cast for Secretary of State in the previous general election. So while Indiana’s population only doubled from 1933 to 2001, the current number of signatures required for a minor party or independent candidate’s name to appear on the ballot for a state or federal office increased 64-fold to 32,741.

Minor party and independent candidates for local and county offices are subjected to the same signature submission deadlines and formula for number of signatures. For example, when I ran for office as a Green Party candidate for the 1st District seat on South Bend’s Common Council, I had to submit certified signatures from 1st District voters for my name to appear on the ballot. The number of signatures required was 2% of the total votes cast for Secretary of State in the 1st District. The local Green Party succeeded in getting the signatures needed for my name to be on the ballot; the irony is that if I had won, I would have been required to gather signatures again to run for the same office in the next election.

A minor party can gain statewide ballot access if it runs a candidate for Secretary of State and that candidate receives at least 2% of the vote in the general election. The minor party candidate for Secretary of State must submit the 30,000-plus signatures for their name to be on the ballot and if they succeed in garnering 2% of the vote, the minor party then has state-wide ballot access. This means minor party candidates can then have their names appear on the ballot for any local, county, state or federal office, including US President without submitting thousands of signatures. The Libertarian Party is the only minor party to succeed in gaining statewide ballot access in Indiana, however, they accomplished this in 1996, prior to and most likely resulting in the most recent changes in Indiana ballot access law.

Separate and Unequal Rules for Ballot Access for Republicans and Democrats

Contrast the requirements for independent and minor party candidates to the “guidelines” set for Republican and Democratic candidates. To appear on an Indiana primary ballot for a state or federal office, Republican and Democratic candidates are required to submit only 4500 signatures, 500 from each of Indiana’s 9 congressional districts. For this year’s Indiana primary,  John McCain’s campaign operatives failed to submit the required number of signatures for his name to appear on the ballot. Furthermore, all the signatures were not submitted according to guidelines, however the Indiana Election Commission ruled that voters should not be denied an opportunity to vote for McCain due to “meaningless technicalities”.

This begs the question: why are there different rules in place between “major” and “minor” parties fielding candidates for offices in a democracy? The obvious answer is that the rules were written by two organizations fielding political candidates who have the financial resources and political connections to maintain their position of power. This is indeed a two-party system: those that have access to the ballots and voters and those that have not. The disparity in ballot access means fewer choices for voters. Fewer choices means voters will less likely be able to vote for a candidate who most closely represents their convictions. Without an opportunity to connect their convictions to a candidate, voters will continue to stay home on Election Day as the parties in power work to undermine democracy.

What you can do:

  • Support ballot access petition drives for independent and minor party candidates.  Even if you do not intend to vote for that candidate, we need to let election officials, legislators, the judiciary and governor know that Hoosiers want more choices on the ballot.  Sign a minor party or independent candidate’s petition form and offer to get 10 of your friends to sign as well.  You can find out what candidates are petitioning for signatures at the County Voter Registration Office at the County City Building in St Joe County.  Stephen Bonney is an independent candidate for Indiana governor, for example, who needs 30,000+ signatures to get on the ballot for the November 2008 election.
  • Subscribe to Ballot Access News to get the latest information on ballot access issues nationwide; you can do an “Indiana” search for news specifically related to ballot access in Indiana.
  • Write or call your legislator’s office and let them know you want ballot access restrictions eased so there is equal access for all parties to the democratic process.  Ask them to write or sponsor bills to this effect.
  • Consider voting for a minor party candidate in the next election.
  • Find out who the “write-in” candidates are for the next election.  Often these are candidates who were unable to gather enough signatures to get their names on the ballot but are still eligible to receive votes.  If you agree with their platforms, vote for them; you will need to fill in the “write-in” bubble for that office and write the candidate’s name on the line provided.  Remember only officially recognized “write-in” candidates are eligible to receive such votes.
  • If you vote for a “write-in” candidate, follow-up with the County Election Board to ensure they properly count write-in votes as the St Joe County Election board has a poor history in this regard.
  • Consider running as a minor party candidate for a local office.

 Democracy is not a spectator sport!

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