Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ballot access idiocy

Ballot access is restrictive enough without adding inflexible bureaucracy to the mix.

Two examples from this election season in Minnesota:

Rep. Gil Gutknecht, who routinely files petitions to get on the ballot rather than pay a $300 filing fee (a gimmick meant to highlight his fiscal conservativism), is facing a challenge because he gathered the signatures for the petition outside of a two-week window prescribed by state law.

As an aside, I'm not sure how this highlights Gutknecht's careful use of money, since it seems to me that it could easily cost more than $300 to gather the necessary signatures.

But more importantly, this is stupid. The purpose of a petition requirement is to demonstrate some minimal level of support so that the ballot isn't cluttered with dozens of cranks and protest candidates. It's reasonable to have some sort of time requirement to ensure that the signatures are relatively "fresh", but a two-week window right before the filing deadline is unnecessarily restrictive.

And trying to disqualify Gutknecht from running on such a technicality -- when he could have just paid the $300 to file -- is a tactic that damages democracy.

Meanwhile, an Independence Party candidate for the state House, Brian Smith, has been left off the ballot for following instructions from the Secretary of State's office.

Smith, 35, went to the office of Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer on July 18, the final day of filing, to throw his hat in the ring to succeed state Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis. He paid a $100 filing fee to enter the Independence Party primary election and gave an affidavit of candidacy to Kiffmeyer.

There was one problem: Under state law, Smith was supposed to file in Hennepin County, not at the secretary of state's office in St. Paul

Okay, two things. First, Smith should get a pass simply because he was given bad info by Kiffmeyer's office. Second and more importantly, though, should someone really be kept off the ballot because they filed in the wrong office? Is that really supportive of democracy?

Ballot access should be considered a near-right. Restrictions on it must be reasonable and narrowly construed. And candidates should be given the benefit of the doubt in nearly all cases, rather than kept from running because of stupid technicalities. Give voters more choices, not fewer.

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