Ballot Access Law and the Media Circus

At World Wide Hippies, Phil Polizatto reflects on the absurdity of our ballot access laws, and argues that they provide an explanation for why "so many wannabes go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention."  Excerpt:
It’s difficult enough to get on a ballot as a Democrat or Republican, but try to run as an Independent or a third party and it is nigh on to impossible, hindered by 50 different state laws, financial requirements, and the number of signatures of registered voters required on a petition for nomination. I feel better only by the fact that most of the public and much of the media do not understand the ballot access laws either.
The many hours I have spent researching just a few states’ requirements has almost turned my mind into a petrified forest. There is no way that I could detail the restrictive ballot access in each of the 50 states without writing a reference book. Before I become brain dead, therefore, allow me to speak in generalities.
Though Florida, of all states, requires no filing fee (a very recent change in policy,) most of the others do. If you happen to be able to run as a Democrat or a Republican, the filing fees required to be on every state’s general ballot will average out to approximately $8100. In addition to the filing fees, a candidate must submit a petition signed by registered voters. Here comes the incomprehensible part: if you are an “important” Democratic candidate, you will need to submit 26,000 signatures nationwide. If an “important” Republican, he or she needs 54,750. I cannot explain this discrepancy.

“Unimportant” Democrats need more than 112,000 signatures, while “unimportant” Republicans must submit 141,000. And guess who decides who is “important” or “unimportant?” Television newsmen and major newspaper reporters decide who someone worth covering is: the more coverage, the more important. If you can attract the right kind of attention and enough of it, then that candidate has a much easier time getting on the ballot. In fact, some states waive the petition signatures altogether if the would-be candidate is deemed “important” enough.
Is it no wonder then that so many wannabes go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention? We see, read, and hear the gimmicks they use every day. Saying outrageous and outright lies about an issue or opponent, taking a bus tour of historic monuments, jamming with a rock band, making a huge deal about something you don’t even really believe in as long as it will endear you to the crowd of the moment… any gimmick will do as long as it will attract the attention of the media and lots of it.
For independents and third party nominees, the laws are more severe than for candidates running as Democrats or Republicans . . . 
Read the whole thing.  Polizatto apparently started researching the various laws while considering an independent campaign for president himself.  The article goes on to provide a short history of how and why ballot access laws were tightened time and again over the course of the twentieth century.


Samuel Wilson said...

It was an interesting article. I'll have to look further into the significance of 1924, a year I associate with LaFollette's Progressive candidacy. Maybe it was that rather than Socialists, who had been more powerful earlier under Debs, that scared the Bipolarchy. In any event, I'll say again that the ultimate solution to ballot access may be to reimagine the ballot itself.

d.eris said...

Darcy Richardson has a book on La Follette, the Progressive movement and third party politics in the 1920's. It's part of his series on the history of third party and independent politics in the US.

I'm still stumped on trying to re-imagine the ballot itself.

Samuel Wilson said...

Just realize that every argument for limiting ballot access is based on the limited space on a ballot and ask yourself whether modern technology can liberate the ballot from physical space.