New Bern, NC – INTRO - The Democratic Party may likely view themselves as the statewide winner on election day, with victories in the Governor's and U-S Senate races, increasing their majority on the Council of State, and essentially maintaining their numbers in the General Assembly. The state Libertarian Party won't be represented anywhere in those bodies and yet they consider this past Election Day to be a momentous occasion as well. George Olsen has more.
Democrat Bev Purdue won just over 50% of the vote, Republican Pat McCrory just under 47% and Libertarian Mike Munger won not quite 3% in the governor's contest. Typically, losing an election by an almost 17-to-1 margin isn't cause for celebration. This year it was.
"We have been struggling with the ballot access barriers for 20-30 years so the fact this is the first time in NC history that a 3rd party has retained its ballot status at the ballot box is significant. We were basically overwhelmed... but folks who have gone thru 4, 5, or 6 ballot access drives were absolutely ecstatic because this was a victory for us."
Brian Irving is the communications director for the state Libertarian Party. State election laws say to qualify for the next four year cycle of elections a party's presidential or gubernatorial candidate has to receive 2% of the vote. Presidential candidate Bob Barr didn't cross that threshold, but gubernatorial candidate Mike Munger did with .87% to spare.
"This showed that, despite all the obstacles the Democrats and Republicans throw in front of us, we can achieve we can overcome whatever barriers they erect, and now we can begin the process of acting like a put on a real challenge to the two party system by mounting a serious campaign, raising money and devoting our energies to campaigning rather than trying to get on the ballot."
And it was an expensive and time consuming process for the Libertarians particularly when you realize the party only boasts about 3700 registered members in the state compared to 2-point-8 million for the Democrats and 2-million for the Republicans.
"Well, this last time we spent nearly over 130,000 dollars and it took us nearly 3 years and untold man hours, volunteer hours mostly, we did pay occasionally. Not only that but the expense to the state. All the local boards of elections that had to verify the signatures, they had to spend time and money, effort, that they could have spent to do other things than verifying signatures."
Qualifying for the ballot was even more crucial considering the high turnout this election season. If your candidate doesn't meet the 2% threshold, then a certain number of signatures requesting ballot access must be collected and verified. That number is a percentage of voters in the state's most recent election which means the higher the turnout, the more signatures needed during petition drives. This past cycle the Libertarians collected 100,000 signatures to make sure they got enough eligible voters to beat a 70,000 signature requirement. No petition drive, unfortunately, doesn't necessarily mean the party now has extra money to play with.
"We do have an outstanding legal bill too since we have this legal challenge to the N-C election law, probably about $100,000 or so."
The state Libertarians are challenging a Superior Court ruling to their lawsuit claiming the state's ballot access requirements are too restrictive. The Superior Court ruled against them. Now they're waiting to hear from the state Court of Appeals. Still, in the past the Libertarians have spent the four year election cycles qualifying for the next four years. With that burden relieved, they can now make plans to actually win ballots rather than just get on them.
"We are on the ballot, so that's the effort that we'll be focusing on the next two years is to get organized, get people starting now to organize their campaign staffs and raise money and run competitive races, and we will probably specifically target those races where there is just a Democrat or a Republican where the seat has been gerrymandered such that it assures one of those two parties will have that seat."
Toward that end, there's already one announced candidate for the state Senate. Mike Munger says he'll seek a seat in the Legislature in 2010. Brian Irving is the communications director for the North Carolina Libertarian Party. I'm George Olsen.