OKLAHOMA CITY — The U.S. Constitution puts just a few limits on people who want to become president. Qualified candidates must be 35 years old. They must be natural-born citizens and have lived in this country for 14 years.
But, in Oklahoma, putting in one’s name is much harder than that, and two lesser-known candidates are challenging what they consider to be some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country.
Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential nominee, and Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, who is running as an independent, are suing the state Election Board for violating their constitutional rights by creating unfair ballot rules in which Republicans and Democrats face different requirements and deadlines than everyone else.
Stein and De La Fuente want a federal judge to reject Oklahoma’s election laws as discriminatory, and they’re seeking an injunction ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election to put their names on the ballot, with those of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. They’re also seeking unspecified attorneys fees.
Federal courts have recently loosened ballot laws in Georgia and Pennsylvania, ennobling supporters of independent and third-party candidates.
“We’re making a strong effort this year because it’s important to be on the ballot in every state to give voters more than two choices,” said Rick Lass, national ballot access coordinator for Stein’s campaign.
“The nature of the two-party (system) is they make the laws and they don’t want more competition. They want to shut out any ideas other than their own,” he said.
This year, Stein is set to appear on the ballot in 45 states, Lass said, thanks in part to momentum drawn from supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who haven’t switched allegiance to the Democrats’ nominee, Clinton.
But Stein won’t make the ballot here under existing state law, which requires the signatures of about 40,000, or about 3 percent, of registered voters. The Green Party turned in just 556 signatures, said Bryan Dean, spokesman for the State Election Board.
Also, Stein’s petition had to be submitted by July 15. Major parties did not have to submit a petition.
Lass, working with Stein’s campaign, said only North Carolina’s requirement of 90,000 signatures is more difficult than Oklahoma’s.
Judges have loosened similar requirements elsewhere.
In Georgia, a federal judge dropped the threshold from about 54,000 to 7,500 signatures for the 2016 election. In Pennsylvania, a judge reduced it from 22,000 to 5,000 signatures.
“So there is precedent around the country about realizing these are impossible thresholds for ordinary people to meet,” Lass said.
Green Party officials said they cannot remember when one of their candidates appeared on an Oklahoma ballot.
Four years ago, Stein’s name appeared on the ballot in 37 other states, said Green Party spokesman Scott McLarty. Republican and Democratic state lawmakers, he noted, write “laws that privilege their own candidates and make it difficult for alternative party candidates and independents.”
In the lawsuit filed last week in a federal court in Oklahoma City, Stein and De La Fuente said even some of the most successful third-party candidates have been rejected in Oklahoma.
“So restrictive, severe, and discriminative is Oklahoma’s ballot access law for presidential candidates who are independent or the nominee of a political party not recognized in the state of Oklahoma, that even a prominent presidential candidate such as Ralph Nader failed to appear on the Oklahoma presidential ballot,” their lawsuit states.
Earlier this year, the Libertarian Party estimated it spent as much as $100,000 to collect enough signatures to be a recognized political party in Oklahoma.
The November ballot will be the first in 16 years that the party — and its presidential candidate — will be recognized.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at [email protected]