By Ken Busby
Lee County has had two third party candidates express their intentions to run for elective offices in 2016, who were unable to get on the ballot because they failed to meet the extremely challenging requirements placed on them. The ballot access law requirements applied to minor parties and independents make it much more challenging to get on the ballot than do the requirements of major parties. This limits choice and competition for a process designed to convey the voice of Alabama voters.
Ken Busby’s attempt to gain ballot access failed after collecting more than 500 county-wide signatures but only 99 were certified within the District where he was a candidate. This has limited him to a write-in campaign for the office.
Gage Fenwick’s attempt to run for legislative seat 79 failed after his 300+ petitions fell short of the 276 registered voters required after certification by the Secretary of State’s Office. This allowed the Republican candidate to be certified the winner without a general election, effectively silencing the voice of all those who did not vote in the primary election due to not being a Republican and choosing to cast their vote in the general election and not meddle in a private party’s primary.
On Sept. 30, 2016, US District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that Alabama’s demand that independent candidates, and minor party candidates get signatures from three percent of the registered voters in a district for ballot access (often in less than 60 days) was not reasonable. (http://www.alreporter.com/court-decision-could-make-ballot-access-easier-for-third-party-candidates/) Had this ruling been handed down before the Republican candidate had been certified Gage would have been on the ballot.
These two candidates would have provided another choice for the people of Lee County to choose from. They could have given a voice for all those who choose not to vote, feeling unrepresented by those on the ballot. Restricting ballot access oppresses a citizen’s first amendment rights and should be fair for all who wish to run for office. The current law heavily favors the two major party duopoly and makes it nearly impossible for others to gain access. If all candidates had to go through the same process we would have many elections with no one running for office.Actually, this isn’t much different to now with a high percentage of elections decided in a primary where the winners go on to face no one in the general elections.
With the Sept. 30 ruling by Judge Thompson effectively eliminating the petition requirement for special elections, only the requirements for the general election remains. Ballot access for qualified candidates is a right as a citizen and should be protected as such. Ballot access laws in Alabama are the toughest in the nation with requirements that far exceed the nearest rival.
Take Alabama’s 20 percent retention requirement that requires a party retain 20 percent of the vote to be considered a major party. The next highest are Oklahoma, New Jersey and Virginia with 10 percent with the majority of the rest of the states falling below five percent. Ballot access should be open for all qualified candidates or at least the law should be fair and applied to all not favoring one group over another.
The time has come for all those who decide to run for office are able to exercise their right to run without the barrier of gathering petitions or meet any other unnecessary (non-uniform) requirements in order to qualify for the office they express interest in pursuing. Base requirements (say, each candidate pays the same marginal cost to be on the ballot instead of wasting time and money getting signatures taxpayers must then waste money on verifying) applied to all candidates is more than sufficient to decide whether or not they’re allowed on the general ballot.
I ask all citizens contact their legislators and demand change to the Alabama ballot access laws to allow for fair and uniform access to all who wishes to serve. Tell them you want to have a choice come general election time and that one or two party’s restricted process alone should not dictate who runs for office.
Our system was designed for the people to elect candidates to office, not major party participants. Without the public’s support this will never be fixed and every election will continue to impel us toward the observed results of no choice, no competition, and no freedom.