Legislation in state House seeks to ease ballot access requirements

Legislation in state House seeks to ease ballot access requirements

New Bern, NC – INTRO - The state House is taking another stab at relaxing requirements for third parties and unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot. George Olsen has more.

If you don't have either an "R" or "D" next to your name, getting on the ballot in North Carolina can be a tricky proposition.

"The libertarian party spent in excess of $130,000 to get on the ballot in 2008. It took nearly three years for that effort to be successful. An alternative party will spend all its resources and all its time and energy just to get on the ballot. It basically arrives at the starting point exhausted. It's like asking someone to run a marathon before they do a hundred yard dash."

Brian Irving, chair of the Free the Vote Coalition and a former press spokesman for the state Libertarian Party. Current state law requires a third party to get petition signatures equal to two percent of voters participating in the most recent gubernatorial election to get their candidates on the statewide ballot which some say makes North Carolina's ballot requirement the second toughest in the country. That's prompted legislation introduced in the state House earlier this month that would bring North Carolina into the mainstream.

"Current N-C law equates to 2% and that would be about 80,000 signatures required. A lot of these figures came from other states states around N-C, states across the country, and that's where you'll see a lot of these 1000, 350 or some combination thereof. It's not just numbers we dreamed up. They came from various other states."

Tenth District Representative Stephen LaRoque, one of four primary sponsors of the 2011 Electoral Freedom Act. To get access to the statewide ballot under the bill, a third party or unaffiliated candidate would need to get 10,000 petition signatures rather than the 2% moving target. Unaffiliated candidates running for local offices would need fewer signatures anywhere from 1000 to run for the U-S House of Representatives to 50 for county office where there are fewer than 25,000 registered voters. Running as a write-in candidate would be even simpler no petition signatures required.

"Rather than jump through additional hoops you send in a letter saying you intend to be a write-in candidate and you are one. It's fairly simple, or will be if this becomes law."

Political parties could also stay on the ballot for the next election cycle if their candidate for governor, any council of state offices or president received 10,000 votes. The 2011 Electoral Freedom Act is the latest in recent attempts to relax ballot requirements. A 2009 bill also named the Electoral Freedom Act was introduced in the state Senate. It would have lowered petition requirements but died in committee. Previous efforts lowered voter percentages in presidential or gubernatorial elections to stay on the ballot from 10% to 2% but left stringent petition requirements. Despite past disappointments, Brian Irving thinks this bill has a chance just because of the disparate entities behind it.

"The groups that are forming the coalition we have all the alternative parties in NC the Libertarian, Constitution, Green, Modern Whig, Conservative and Reform parties and on the public policy side we have the John Locke Foundation and Democracy NC."

That's on top of the fact the four primary sponsors of the bill are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Republican Stephen LaRoque says he likes the bills chances and thinks the bill is a non-partisan issue that "cuts both ways." He adds this is a critical week for the bill as sponsors plan to talk with the legislators on the elections committee where the bill now sits to seek their support. It would be the first step in a process to bring voters in the state something Representative LaRoque believes is missing from the state ballot.

"We need choices in this state and this country as a matter of fact and this goes a long way toward helping North Carolina be more ballot friendly to various candidates. I just think folks like having a choice more than just the two so-called major parties."

Stephen LaRoque represents District 10 Greene, Lenoir and Wayne Counties in the state House. Brian Irving is chair of the Free the Vote Coalition. I'm George Olsen.