Rocky De La Fuente on Party Barriers to Ballot Access
31 Aug

Rocky De La Fuente on Party Barriers to Ballot Access

ORLANDO, Florida, August 31, 2016 – Did you know that the Democratic and Republican Parties, which basically control state election laws, have created a scenario not only designed to preclude other parties from gaining any traction but also to limit your choices among the parties’ own candidates? Let’s look at a few Supreme Court cases to understand the basis for this, and then, I will share my personal experience with you.

• In Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45 (1935) (a case dealing with), the Supreme Court held that political parties, as private organization, can make their own rules. This upheld the Democratic Party of Texas’ a rule that established “white’s only” primary elections. Luckily, this was overturned in Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944), which held that states cannot delegate their authority to regulate primaries in a way that violates the constitution. Therefore, the Democratic Party of Texas could not establish a rule that denies the Fourteenth Amendment rights of Black, Hispanic and other minorities. However, this only limited a party’s discretion when any associated rules violated constitutional rights.
• Then, in California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567 (2000), the Supreme Court ruled that political parties are permitted to decide who gets to cast a vote in their primary elections so that they can administer a degree of control over the which candidates are elected to represent the parties in the general election (i.e., they can conduct closed primaries if they choose to do so).

For those of you who think Citizens United was a bad decision, the abused interpretation of these cases poses every bit as serious a concern. Allow me to share the reality of my Democratic primary experience:

I was unilaterally denied ballot access in states like Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. No reason was required and none was offered when my petitions for reconsideration were summarily rejected. I was told that it was the State Party’s right to decide who would be included on the state’s ballot.

Please note that candidates who had already dropped out of the race were included on the ballots in some cases, and other individuals who were never running were included as well. No explanation was ever offered.

These backroom decisions denied ballot access in the primaries to candidates like Dr. Willie Wilson (although Dr. Wilson did get included in South Carolina), which dramatically impacted our chances.

Why is this important?

Dr. Wilson is an African American and I am a Hispanic American. While Smith v. Allwright eliminated the parties’ ability to practice racial discrimination through the parties’ discriminatory voter access rules, it did nothing to protect against similar discrimination through the parties’ control of their candidate selection. I am not suggesting that the Democratic Parties of such states were intentionally discriminating against candidates like Dr. Wilson and me, but because there is no transparency, there is not protection against the potential for such discrimination. I will continue the fight to allow underrepresented constituencies within our country to see that they too can run for office and to serve as an inspiration to future generations of those Americans.

Other states, like Michigan and North Carolina, routinely denied including my name on their ballots while granting that privilege to the party’s luminaries (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley). However, they offered an alternative path to gaining ballot access; no matter how disingenuous it was. While they permitted candidates to gain ballot access via the gathering of signatures, they also crafted complex rules that were designed to preclude anyone from successfully pursuing that course.

For example, the Michigan statute required 12,832 signatures to be collected within seven days. The law was established in 1972, but no one had ever even attempted gaining ballot access by signature petition because the hurdle was so high and made even more complex with respect to the rules governing what constituted a valid signature. I submitted 20,166 signatures and Michigan found a way to discredit 3,696 of them. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party of Michigan, that left me with 16,470 valid signatures; enough to qualify to be included on the ballot.

In fact, Michigan almost didn’t receive my signature petitions. The state statute gives candidates an extremely narrow window within which to submit their petitions (literally about 15 minutes on a given day). The office was dark and a startled state employee saw our boxes and asked what they were. When we told her, she exclaimed, “No one’s ever tried to submit presidential petitions before, so I was leaving early.”

North Carolina and Massachusetts offered similar scenarios. North Carolina employees did not know where to forward the petitions after they were received, and Massachusetts had actually already drawn ballot positions (contrary to state law) because they had never had anyone submit enough presidential petitions to overcome its signature requirements. Massachusetts even threatened to find a way to invalidate my petitions if I were to force them to redraw the ballot positions based on their own statute.

Then, there were states like Wisconsin and Oregon. Wisconsin lost boxes of our petitions without explanation, so unsurprisingly we fell short by a narrow margin. One particular individual in Oregon placed every obstacle she could in the way of our collection efforts; from initially trying to prevent it to doing a random sample of the 18,000 plus signatures we submitted and claiming they were insufficient.

Despite these hurdles, I made it onto the ballots of 40 states, 5 territories and the District of Columbia in an unprecedented feat.

With regard to the District of Columbia, I was actually the only Democratic candidate to file within the mandatory period associated with Party’s rules. However, the rules were waived to allow Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who had filed a day late, to be included on the ballot. The reason this is interesting is because I filed my petitions a day late in New York (because of a snow storm), and I was denied ballot access. In the world of Party primaries, I learned that a rule is a rule unless it’s not.

I won’t bore you with every trick that was used to prevent my name from appearing on a ballot, but I think you get the picture. The major parties are manipulating the elections by denying you a choice of candidates other than the ones they prescribe.

If you allow the parties to control your choice, you might as well surrender your vote to them. I will continue the fight to broaden your choice.

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