Tea Party movement should support ballot access reform

Most Tea Party participants believe they have the right to vote for anyone they choose in an election. Most also believe they have the right to run for office.

Unfortunately, they are wrong. A state Superior Court judge said so in 2008 when the Libertarian and Green parties challenged the constitutionality of the state’s ballot access laws. The judge denied the claim saying, “there is no fundamental right for a voter to vote for the party of their choice.”

North Carolina has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation. It is actually less difficult to get on the ballot in Russia than it is in North Carolina. North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections is the only organization in North Carolina actively fighting to break down these restrictions.

The NCFPE is a group of concerned citizens from across the political spectrum who see a need for truly free and competitive elections in North Carolina. It includes Constitutionalist, Libertarians, Libertarians, Greens, Whigs, independents and yes even Republican and Democrats who have come together to stand up for the right of all North Carolinians to vote and to vote effectively.

The right to vote in North Carolina has been unjustifiably suppressed since 1901. Though the state has seen many changes in its election law since the dramatic lockdown on political competition in 1983, ballot access has remained a major obstacle for anyone outside the two major parties for nearly three decades. The problem is only getting worse.

The primary goal of the NCFPE is to restore competition to North Carolina elections, to give the right to vote back to the people by reducing or eliminating our state’s oppressive ballot access restrictions.

Current law requires nearly 90,000 signatures for a new political party, that is any party other than the Democrats and Republicans, to obtain access to the election ballot. The same rules apply for a statewide independent candidate.

Ballot access laws in most other states are nowhere near as restrictive. South Carolina and Virginia for example only require 10,000 signatures for a new political party or independent statewide candidate. Tennessee only requires 275 signatures for an independent candidate for the presidency and 25 signatures for Congressional candidates.

North Carolina’s ballot access restrictions are designed to do one thing: perpetuate the stranglehold the Democratic-Republican duopoly has on power. Such severe limitations on the voter’s choice are not only unfair and unjust, they have no place in a republican form of government.

All the issues Tea Party participants are concerned about – from high taxes, massive government regulation on everyone and everything, the trampling of our inalienable rights, disregard for even basic civil liberties like freedom of speech, and the right of the people to assemble and to petition for redress of grievance – are all made possible because the Democratic and Republican parties have made it nearly impossible for anyone to dislodge them from office or wage a competitive campaign against them.

Without the right to vote for any candidate of your choice, you cannot protect your other rights. Without the right to vote for any candidate of your choice, elected officials have no reason to listen to you, or to answer your phone calls or e-mails. Without the right to vote for any candidate of your choice, not some party apparatchik approved by the State, your vote becomes nearly meaningless.

Without real competition, the two so-called major parties have no reason to pay attention to anyone who is not part of their system.

“One of the best-kept secrets in American politics is that the two-party system has long been brain-dead maintained by a life-support system that protects the established parties from rivals,” said Theodore J. Lowi, senior professor of American Institutions at Cornell University.

“The two-party system would collapse in an instant if the tubes were pulled and the IVs were cut. And until then, the dominant two parties will not, and cannot, reform a system in which they are the principal beneficiaries.”

We need a free market in our electoral process, just like we need a free market in our economic system. North Carolina’s ballot access restrictions limit freedom of speech, restrict choice, and stifle competition.

The lack of competition preserved by North Carolina’s ballot access restrictions creates unresponsiveness of elected officials to their constituency. Two protected political parties is not real competition.

The state has no legitimate interest in such restrictive ballot laws. The people are not rightly served by restrictive ballot access laws. The only groups that benefit are the Republican and Democratic Party establishments and entrenched incumbents.

Third parties are the only real check and balance on the two major parties. Simply by having alternative parties interacting freely in the electoral system, the two-major parties must stay true to their constituency in order to retain their place.

If third parties are allowed to participate freely, the major parties will work to co-opt issues of those parties in order to stay in power. In doing this, the major party may still win the election, but the minor party and people will also win because the things they care about are often translated into policy objectives and even law.

Most major advancements in American government have come about because of third parties, including the abolition of slavery, curtailment of child labor and the woman’s right to vote.

When third parties thrive, liberty thrives. If the Tea Party movement is serious about making real and lasting change, then it must advocate and push for ballot access reform in North Carolina. In essence, the Tea Party must stand up for the citizen’s right to defend their rights at the ballot box.