by Daniel Lewis
Ballot access rules and laws for political parties and candidates impact your rights. In the United States, where two parities dominate, ballot access criteria are set on a state by state basis. With nine parties, New York has the most political parties on the ballot. By court order, Tennessee had the Green Party and the Constitution Party on the ballot for the 2012 election. The last time a minor party was on the ballot in Tennessee was in 1961. Because they did not get enough votes (80,000 votes in the U.S. Senate race), these parties lost ballot access. Currently a new party must collect about 40,000 signatures to be able to have candidates list their party name next to their name instead of the misleading “Independent” label.
In 2004 The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticized the United States for its restrictive ballot access laws that violate basic human rights. Oppressive nations like Eritrea and Turkmenistan only allow one political party. Turkmenistan recently changed its constitution to allow new political parties to form. Iraq has thirty-three political parties, while Afghanistan has thirty-eight political parties. The most oppressive countries in the world have more political parties than we do in Tennessee: North Korea has five parties. The People’s Republic of China has eight. Zimbabwe has fourteen. Saudi Arabia has fifteen. The Sudan has seventeen. Iran has eighteen. Libya and Burma have thirty political parties each.
Eighteenth century "voice voting" eventually gave way to paper ballots. Until the 1880s political parties produced ballots and distributed them to voters, who would take them to the polling place and deposit it in the ballot box. When the government began producing ballots, state legislatures passed ballot access restrictions that discriminated against candidates not associated with the major parties. Tennessee’s ballot access restrictions, introduced in the 1960s, created the seventh most restrictive ballot access laws in the United States.
SB 1091/ HB 958 introduced by Senator Jim Kyle and Representative Jason Powell improves Tennessee ballot access by lowering signatures requirements for minor parties to get individual candidates on the ballot and changes the requirements for them to continue to be recognized to getting 5% in any of the races for which they qualified.
Ballot access is not a partisan issue. Improved ballot access respects basic human rights, increases freedom, and stops minority discrimination. Minor parties often champion important ideas and highlight issues ignored by the major parties. For example, in the 2012 Presidential election only the minor parties discussed the issue of employing drones both overseas and domestically.
Everyone should follow SB 1091/ HB 958. As the bill is considered, we must remind our legislators that this about basic human rights, ends discrimination, and promotes freedom.
Encourage legislators to cosponsor SB 1091/ HB 958 and vote in favor of this bill. Encourage others to talk about and promote SB 1091/ HB 958 and post about SB 1091/ HB 958 online, and encourage others to do the same.
Daniel Lewis is the Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County lpmndc.org.