Thursday, July 20, 2006

N.C. Senate leaves fairness out of Electoral Fairness Act

A press release from the NC Open Elections Coalition

House Bill 88 goes back to House with no improvements in signature requirements for third parties and independent candidates

RALEIGH: House Bill 88, the Electoral Fairness Act, passed the N.C. Senate today in a form that does nothing to improve citizen access to the state's ballots.

Despite two attempts to amend the bill back to reasonable signature requirements, House Bill 88 returns to the N.C. House with the state's current requirement for petition signatures intact. That requirement is equal to 2 percent of the votes cast in the last governor's race, or 69,734 signatures.

"Once again, the legislature leaves North Carolina with arguably the most burdensome ballot access restrictions in the nation," said Brian Irving, a Libertarian. "In terms of democratic access to the ballot, North Carolina and Alabama rank at the very bottom."

In its current form, the bill does lower the vote threshold to stay on the ballot from 10 percent to 2 percent of the vote cast for governor or president, a positive change if it holds up in conference in the House, but not the change the N.C. Open Elections Coalition was looking for.

"What good does it do us?" said Irving. "We can't stay on the ballot if we can't get on the ballot in the first place."

The bill also adds filing fees for third-party and independent candidates.

Improvements rejected by leadership

The Democratic leadership of the Senate once again voted down an amendment that would have lowered the signatures required to get on the ballot (to 1/2 percent of the votes cast for governor, or 17,434). The amendment was introduced by Minority Leader Phil Berger and championed by Deputy Minority Leader Tom Apodaca, Republican Andrew Brock and Republican Eddie Goodall, as well as by Democrat Ellie Kinnaird.

The vote on the amendment split on party lines (21-25), with Senator Kinnaird being the only Democrat to support opening the ballot. The bill itself passed unanimously.

"We owe the Republicans thanks," said Hart Matthews, Director of the North Carolina Green Party. "They may have been playing for the chance to split the liberal vote, but they could have chosen instead to support higher signature limits to keep all third parties off the ballot. They deserve thanks for speaking eloquently in support of democratic reforms and for supporting a lower vote threshold that would make it easier for Libertarians and others to stay on the ballot."

"On the other hand," said Matthews, "Democratic Senators Doug Berger and David Weinstein made completely nonsensical arguments about volunteer workers at polling places and the 'balkanization' of the Senate. The 48 states that have easier ballot access than we do don't have problems with legislative 'balkanization.' "

Democratic Senator Daniel Clodfelter, though he said he agreed with the Berger amendment, argued that the bill would die entirely in the House if it were to go back with lower signature limits and so urged the Senate to reject the amendment.

Electoral Fairness Act may go to conference, lawsuit active

The Senate leadership doubts it can get a vote of concurrence in the House, so the bill may end up in conference committee.

Meanwhile, the Libertarian Party of North Carolina and the North Carolina Green Party have brought suit against the state Board of Elections, alleging that the ballot access requirements are a breach of the state's constitutional guarantee of free elections.


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