Ballot access reform bill still alive

An election bill that would dramatically lower the threshold for a new political party to gain and maintain ballot access in North Carolina may still be considered by the state General Assembly when it reconvenes in July. H.B. 32, The Electoral Freedom Act of 2011, passed the House in a bipartisan 68-49 vote, but the Senate adjourned before considering the measure.

The legislature will return in July primarily to deal with redistricting but may consider other matters, including election law bills.

“We’re hopeful that legislators will pass this bill when the return,” said Jordon M. Greene, president of Free the Vote North Carolina. His group is heading a coalition of political parties and public policy groups from across the political spectrum supporting the bill. The measure has backing from the Libertarian, Green and Constitution parties, Democracy NC, the John Locke Foundation and the N.C. League of Women Voters.

“Clearly there’s a broad base of support from across the political spectrum to offer voters more choice on the ballot. We hope the state Senate will consider this and take action,” Greene said. “It is past time that North Carolinians were given as much choice on the ballot as they do in the grocery store.”

The bill lowers the number of signatures a new party must obtain from 2 percent of the vote for governor or president to 0.25 percent of registered voters. That party could then retain ballot status by getting 0.25 percent of the votes for president, governor or any council of state office, whichever is lower, rather than 2 percent of the vote for governor or president under current law.

It also lowers the petition signature requirements for unaffiliated statewide candidates from 2 percent to 0.25 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial or presidential race. For district offices, including the state legislature, U.S. House, and local office, the bill lowers the signature requirement for unaffiliated candidates from 4 percent to 1 percent of the registered voters in that district.

In addition, the bill allows political parties with less than 10 percent of the registered voters to opt out of the state’s primary system and nominate their candidates in convention. If these parties choose to hold primaries, only one primary will be held with the winner determined by a plurality vote.

North Carolina has the second most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation. Under current law, a new party must get signatures equal to two percent of the most recent vote for governor or president to qualify for the ballot. That’s equivalent to 85,379 signatures. Based on voter registration as of January 1, the new law would put that figure at about 15,000.