A matter of choice

Published 9:40 pm Wednesday, May 7, 2008

By Staff
On Monday, the day before Tuesday’s primary elections in North Carolina, a civil trial on a lawsuit that alleges state laws that define a political party are “onerous and violate party members’ rights to free speech and association” began, according to a report by The Associated Press.
The lawsuit stems from a decision in 2005 by the N.C. State Board of Elections to revoke Libertarians’ status as an official political party in North Carolina because the party did not acquire at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the 2004 presidential and gubernatorial elections. The status also was revoked because Libertarians collected just 25,000 signatures of the 70,000 signatures they needed on a petition to remain an official party.
Before the board’s decision Monday, there were 13,006 registered Libertarians in the state.
In response, Libertarians and the Green Party filed the lawsuit.
That was an excellent move on the part of the two parties. The more choices North Carolina voters have when it comes to political parties, the better off they and the state will be. If it were not for the laws that define a political party in North Carolina and make it extremely difficult for a third party to get on the ballot, it’s likely third parties be attractive to many voters who are not happy with their choices being limited to the Democratic or Republican parties.
When the State Board of Elections took its action in 2005, Libertarian Joel Turner, a Washington resident who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners in 2004, said it’s time to change North Carolina’s ballot-access rules, which he calls “utterly ridiculous.”
Turner’s views on third parties having access to the ballot make sense. He was bothered by the board’s decision in 2005.
Then, Turner contended lack of choice, not apathy or other reasons usually blamed for low voter turnout, is the key factor in voters’ staying away from the polls.
His views still hold water today.
In their defense of the laws, state attorneys said the Legislature approved regulations that maintain the integrity of elections by requiring a political party to show it has adequate support from voters. Keep in mind that the vast majority of state legislators are either Democrats or Republicans with little incentive to make it easier for third parties to get their candidates on the ballot.
To be sure, since 1992 Libertarians have had enough voters’ signatures to have their candidates placed on ballots, but those candidates did not win any state elections. By being on those ballots, at least those candidates had a chance to be elected. By keeping them off ballots, third-party members who want to run for office don’t have that chance.
The Web site of the North Carolina Libertarian Party says it needs to collect 107,000 signatures of registered voters to secure a spot on ballots for the Nov. 4 general election. The signature deadline for that general election is June 2.
Libertarians, Green Party members and others deserve a fair and equitable process to get on ballots. That’s not the case, as it stands now.
North Carolina voters deserve choices when they got to the polls. Third parties will help provide those choices.