House committee discusses election reform bill

A subcommittee of the state House elections committee considered House Bill 32, The Electoral Freedom Act of 2011 March 2. The bill would dramatically reduce the ballot access restrictions for new political parties and unaffiliated candidates by reducing the number of signatures they must gather to qualify for the ballot. HB32 would set the signature requirements at 10,000 for a new party or for an unaffiliated candidate running for statewide office, including governor, council of state or U.S. Senator.

It would also set fixed numbers for other offices, including U.S. House, state House and Senate and local offices.

The consensus among subcommittee members was to change from fixed numbers to percentages. The members who supported this idea cited the state’s growing population and the need to pass a law that they would not have to come back to change in a few years. They discussed using one-quarter of one percent of the vote for governor for new parties and statewide unaffiliated candidates, and one-half of one percent for district and local races.

Some representatives voiced their concern over the bills elimination of the write-in candidate signature requirement as well. It is likely that the section regarding write-ins will either be stricken from the bill or revised to call for some number of signatures less than those called for unaffiliated candidates in the bill.

The questions and discussion was all predicated on the premise that there was a need require anyone who wants to run for office to meet “have some hurdles to jump over,” “put forth a little effort” and “not just walk in the door” as one representative put it, other than paying a filing fee and being a citizen and voter. There was no discussion of how the current law and the language of the current bill will affect the individual voter’s right to vote and their chance of representation.

Members of the Free the Vote North Carolina, which proposed the bill, and representatives from the NC Center for Voter Education, Modern Whig, Libertarian and Constitution Party were present at the meeting.

Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R-Lenoir) presented the bill to the subcommittee as the primary sponsor. Reps. Glen Bradly (R-Franklin) and Paul Leubke (D-Durham), also primary sponsors, spoke up in support of the bill as well. Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Wilson) is the fourth primary sponsor.

LaRoque said after the meeting that he was optimistic that, with amendments, the bill would pass the full committee easily. He noted that 68 percent of the states require 10,000 signatures or less for a new party to get on the ballot, or for a independent candidate to run for statewide office.

Jordon Greene, Free the Vote NC president, noted that the number of signatures required using a percentages discussed would not be far of of the fixed numbers proposed in the bill. Applying the one-half of one percent criteria to he vote for governor in 2008, that would mean a new political party would have to collect 10,672 signatures to get on the ballot. The same number wold apply to unaffiliated candidates seeking a statewide office.

“That is definitely acceptable, just a little more than what we had proposed,” he said. “Of course if voter turnout for the gubernatorial race increases in the future the numbers would increase, but probably not substantially.”

Under current law, a new party or unaffiliated statewide candidate must collect 85,370 verified voter signatures to get on the ballot.

Rep. David Lewis, who chairs both the subcommittee and the full committee, said that he would work with the bill primary sponsors and staff to develop a committee substitute based on the input from the subcommittee. HB32 is on the agenda for the next House elections committee meeting set for Wednesday, March 9 at 1 p.m. in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building.

You can listen to the proceedings on the VoterRadio.com, which maintains an archive all the audio of state General Assembly sessions and committee meetings that are recorded.