Lowering ballot barriers for ‘third parties,’ unaffiliated candidates

by Brian Irving

A bill to dramatically reduce the ballot access restrictions for new political parties and unaffiliated candidates was introduced in the state General Assembly Feb. 3.  House Bill 32, The Electoral FreFree the Vote Coalitionedom Act of 2011, would set at 10,000 the number of signatures a new party must collect to be listed on the ballot. It would establish the same number for unaffiliated candidate to run for a statewide office, including governor, council of state or U.S. Senator.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R-10) and co-sponsored by Reps. Glen Bradley (R49), Paul Luebke (D-11) and Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-24). Bert Jones, the only unaffiliated member of the House, is a co-sponsor, along with Larry Hall (D-29), Pricey Harrison (D-57),  Harry Warren (R-77), Jonathan Jordon (R-93), Rodney Moore (D-99), and Jennifer Weiss (D-35).

Several alternative political parties and electoral reform groups have formed the Free the Vote Coalition in support of the bill. The coalition is a project of Free the Vote North Carolina, a non-partisan political action committee dedicated to protecting freedom of speech, association and the right to vote of every North Carolinian through education, research and legislative advocacy.

The bill essential aligns North Carolina election law with the law in the majority of the states. Two-thirds of all states require 10,000 or fewer signatures for a new political party to obtain ballot  access. Twenty-two of those thirty-three states require less than 5,000 signatures or some other  simpler means for a party to be recognized by the state.

Nearly three-fourths of all states (36) require 10,000 or fewer signatures for independent statewide  candidates to obtain access to the ballot. Twenty-nine of those require 5,000 or less, or some other simpler means (such as paying a filing fee) for a candidate to be listed on the ballot.

The bill has been referred to the House elections committee. The committee’s first meeting is Wednesday at 1 p.m., but it is listed as an “informational meeting” on the House calendar.

Key provisions

The bill will:

1. Reduce the number of signatures a new political party would need to obtain ballot access by eliminating the percentage based requirement and instituting a flat number requirement of 10,000 signatures for access to the ballot.

2.  Changes the requirement for a new political party to retain ballot access to a fixed 10,000 votes for their candidate for governor, president or any council of state office (four year term), from the current requirement of two percent of the vote for governor or president.

3.  Reduce the number of signatures unaffiliated candidates must obtain for ballot access, by replacing the percentage based requirement with a flat number for each office:

  • 10,000 for statewide office
  • 1,000 for U.S. House of Representative
  • 300 for state Senate
  • 150 for state House
  • 150 for any county, municipal or other office with more than 25,000 registered voters as of January 1 of the election year
  • 50 for any county, municipal or other office with 25,000 or less registered voters as of January 1 of the election year

4.  Eliminate the need for write-in candidate to obtain signatures for ballot access. They would only need to submit a declaration of intent for votes for their candidacy to be counted.

5.  Allow political parties with less than 10 percent of the registered voters to nominate candidates in convention. If these parties decided to participate in the primary system, the winner in their primaries would be determined by a simple plurality, with no runoff.