“One small step against rigging our elections”

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The Supreme Court's illegitimate installation of the loser in the Oval Office following the deeply flawed - the cynics would even say "rigged" - 2000 presidential election, left more than a bad taste in many American mouths. For some, it was the straw that broke the camel's (or Donkey's) back - they were entirely repulsed at the political (and judicial, such as it was) process. But the aggrieved parties (read: the U.S. populous) are entitled to utter a small cheer, at least, for the ACLU of Massachusetts' welcome victory in a similar effort - this time by the left seeking to screw the right- in the Bay State.

Federal District judge Nathaniel Gorton issued a preliminary injunction on Monday ordering the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, who supervises elections and implements electoral regulations, to list the Libertarian candidate, former Republican Senator Robert Barr (now a registered Libertarian), on the state's ballot for the upcoming presidential election. I understand, of course, the Democratic Party's consternation when Republican operatives, and a conservative-dominated Supreme Court, conspired to put George W. Bush in the White House in 2000 and then keep him there in another flawed election in 2004. But this does not justify what Massachusetts Democrats are now doing - relying on sleazy tactics - to keep Barr off the ballot in the Bay State.

Here's the latest trick, as explained in an ACLUM press release, in a long line of efforts around the country, and even here in Massachusetts, to make American elections resemble those in places like Zimbabwe, Russia or Venezuela. Massachusetts law qualifies a "political party" in the Bay State as one that has a candidate who received three percent of the vote in the most recent statewide election. Because the Libertarian Party (LP) did not previously meet this threshold, it was forced to collect at least 10,000 voter signatures to secure a place on the ballot. With limited resources, the LP began the signature drive well in advance of election season, and it had already collected more than 7,000 signatures to list party stalwart George Phillies on the November ballot. The party, however, nominated Barr, and it sought to substitute him for Phillies once the additional 3,000 signatures were collected. The Massachusetts Election Division of the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, however, refused to count the 7,000 toward the 10,000 signatures needed to put Barr on the ballot, despite the Division's earlier assurances that substitution would be allowed, in accordance with prior practice.

Judge Gorton issued his order on the ground that the regulations, if indeed they could be interpreted to prevent such a substitution, were so vague, and so deficient in providing guidance to minority political parties seeking ballot access, that they violated the constitutional right to "due process of law." Nor could Judge Gorton find any legitimate interest on the part of the state in blocking ballot access. "[A] minor political party, desiring to substitute its presidential nominee on the ballot in Massachusetts is left to guess how, if at all, to do so in compliance with the law," Judge Gorton said in his 11-page decision. "Surely there can be no state interest that would justify such a burden."

Of course, there was an interest in Democratic Party operatives' choking off, in its infancy, any third-party uprising. They wanted to keep the commonwealth essentially a one-party state, replete with all of the corresponding corruption and malfeasance. The consequences of Democratic legislative misrule in Massachusetts are obvious every single day, as MBTA riders screech along obsolete tracks and children learn from dated textbooks and underqualified teachers. The pillage of public coffers by a variety of public employees and private contractors seems to be a fixture on the front page of daily newspapers. Often forgotten is the corollary: the leftover pennies for necessary infrastructure and essential public services. (Similarly, the consequences of an essentially rigged two-party system on the national level are visible, and currently quite painful. The illegitimate seating of George W. Bush in the White House for two terms is the number-one argument for reform of the federal electoral system, but that's another story.)

It is not clear that the LP, any more than other minority parties, has the answers to the state's or the nation's monumental problems. But it is clear that they are entitled - by constitutional right - to have a fair shot at convincing the public that the old two-party monopoly has to be broken for the good of the nation and its people.  The "deprivation of the franchise" (to use ACLUM Legal Director John Reinstein's blunt phrase) to third parties such as the Libertarians, and the removal of illegitimate and unfair "barriers to their full participation in the electoral process" (in the words of ACLUM Executive Director Carol Rose), were beaten back, at least for the moment, in Massachusetts. 


(Kyle Smeallie assisted in the preparation of this piece.)

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