Special Elections: un-fair laws

It is rare that anyone outside of the most politically active pays attention to election laws. This is one of those rare occasions, and only because of the death of a long-time Senator and that pesky law that was passed, which Teddy supported, back in 2004 to require a special election in Massachusetts in case of a Congressional vacancy. Now, there are people, some who helped pass the law, saying the Governor should ignore the law and appoint someone to fill the seat. Some proposing the law be ignored are doing so because of political reasons; you see, Massachusetts now has a Governor who is a member of the Democratic Party. At the time the law was passed there was a Republican Governor (Mitt Romney).
“Each special state primary election for United States Senator or Representative in Congress is held six weeks prior to the special state election” with the general election being between 145 to 160 days after the vacancy occurred.
However, this still doesn’t address the ballot access issue – something most people are never informed about. In addition to the Constitutional requirement that someone be 30 years old, “nine Years a Citizen of the United States” and a resident of the State when elected; Massachusetts imposes two more qualifications, you must be a registered voter and obtain 10,000 valid signatures from registered voters. Of course there are a few more “details” such as the distinction between a “party” or “non-party” candidate.
The Massachusetts Election Division website states:
“’Party candidate’ refers to a candidate who represents any political party recognized in Massachusetts; there are currently only four political parties in Massachusetts: Democratic, Republican, Green-Rainbow and Working Families.
‘Non-party’ refers to any candidate who is not a member of a political party and who is running only in the state general election, not in the primary. To run as a non-party candidate in the general election, the candidate may not be enrolled in any political party. However, a candidate may be enrolled in a political designation and run under that designation.
Non-party candidates for U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, state senator and state representative cannot have been enrolled in any party during the entire 90 days preceding the deadline for filing nomination papers with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Non-party candidates must also circulate nomination papers. The papers will place a candidate’s name on the general election ballot, bypassing the primary.”
Confused yet? Well, you shouldn’t be…yet.
If you want to be a “minor party”/independent candidate in Alabama, Pennsylvania or a handful of other States, the number of signatures required to get on the ballot depends upon the number of votes achieved in a previous election. That figure is 3% of total vote in previous Gubernatorial election for Alabama – unless you’re running for President without a party label and then 5,000 valid signatures gets you on the ballot – and “2% of the largest entire vote cast for an elected candidate at the last election within the district” in Pennsylvania. Other States, like Florida, Louisiana and a few others, allow a candidate access to the ballot simply by paying a fee.
But, of course, ballot access wasn’t an issue for people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or even Ulysses Grant; as Richard Winger writes on his blog Ballot Access News “government-printed ballots in the U.S. began in 1888. Before 1888, it was impossible for any state government to prevent a voter from voting for anyone he wished.”