By Robert W. Peck, Constitution Party of Washington Chairman
The idea of freedom being under attack is nothing new. Our liberties, our God given rights and Constitutional protections have been under assault for some time now. However, while we have been busy running from one battle to another, our minds overwhelmed by the minutia of the multitude of issues that we are inundated with by television and talk radio hosts, I am concerned that one of the chief cornerstones of freedom has been under a more subtle and unpublicized assault. That assault began with mere hindrances, then onerous and even stifling rules and regulations and now some have begun to directly attack this essential element of freedom.
The chief cornerstone of freedom that I am talking about is the ability to choose those who will govern us and to have our voices heard in the public arena of political debate. While none of our God given rights should ever be compromised, some can, from time to time, be infringed upon without losing freedom as a whole. We may not approve of an encroachment in a particular area – a new rule or regulation, a new tax, the licensing of a liberty, etc, but so long as free and open elections still exist, the people have a voice and can even place onto the ballot and elect to office representatives of “we the people” who can right the wrong. However, once a people begin to lose access to the ballot, and thereby their voice in the public forum, then freedom in its entirety is in peril.
We do still have elections in America and for the most part they are open to “we the people.” However, access to the ballot is not as free and easy as you might think and even the access that exists is under attack by some. For freedom to flourish, the people, the common man, every man, must be afforded equal opportunity to enter the public forum, have their name placed on the ballot and have their views and concerns heard in the political arena.
Those watching the political game from the bleachers may not realize it, but getting a candidate on the ballot is not always easy. Ballot access laws vary from state to state. Depending on the state and the office being sought, requirements can range from paying a simple filing fee to having to collect tens of thousands of petition signatures. One thing is quite consistent in most of the states and that is the existence of a tiered structure that segregates citizens into different classes such as major parties, minor parties or independents, then applies different ballot access requirements to each. It appears that in the spirit of “equality before the law,” those who make the laws (Democrats and Republicans) have determined by their infinite wisdom that the best way to make sure that all the citizens are treated equally is to require that those who reject the established powers of the “major parties” and choose to identify with another group, party or individual, are assigned second class status and given extra hoops to jump through before they can appear on the ballot and enjoy being treated equally.
While this practice has not eliminated the ability of those outside the “major party” establishment to appear on the ballot and have their opinions heard, it has greatly hindered those who dissent from the views of the dominant political powers from entering the public forum. While this practice cannot exactly be labeled as dictatorial or totalitarian, it certainly does favor the creation of an oligarchy that has over the years gathered to itself ever increasing power.
However, it appears that simply having the playing field tilted in their favor is no longer enough to satisfy the lust of some who love power as they have now begun to resort to lawsuits in an attempt to remove competitors from the ballot.
It’s funny, but as those who lust for power get more and more of it, they grow increasingly fearful of losing their position of power, so they resort to ever more oppressive tactics in an attempt to get even more power in the hope that it will enable them to retain the power that they have. I have personally witnessed this very phenomenon in individuals who lie, cheat and seek to control others on a personal level.
It can be seen in the pages of history as well. King Saul, knowing that he had disobeyed God and had been rejected from being king over Israel, busied himself with attempts to kill David thinking he could thwart God’s plan for replacing him by killing the man that God had anointed to take his place. Dictators and tyrants throughout history, Joseph Stalin being a good example, have kept themselves busy falsely accusing and executing individuals or even wiping out whole districts or segments of the population for fear that someone might be plotting against them and they might lose their grip on power. It shouldn’t be surprising though as Satan himself, the ultimate and original power monger, is growing, and will grow, ever more wild and frantic in his attempts to hold on to power over men as he sees his inevitable demise approaching at the end of this age and the power that he lusted for slipping through his fingers. Actually, tyrants and oppressors are merely reflecting the nature of Satan, the one who taught them to trust in and lust for power in the first place.
In similar fashion, some in America who trust in political might and who are unwilling to share even the crumbs of it that fall from their table, are now engaging in overt attacks on the right of “we the people” to access the ballot and take part in the political debate. They are challenging the ballot access efforts of some third party candidates in an attempt to have them blocked or thrown off the ballot despite their having cleared monumental hurdles in acquiring the necessary number of ballot access petitions. One third party official personally admitted to me that this year’s attacks against the party’s ballot access efforts are unprecedented in the party’s 25 year history.
In Virginia, the Board of Elections has asked the state’s Attorney General to “investigate” the petitions being submitted by the Constitution Party to have its Presidential candidate, former Congressman Virgil Goode, placed on the ballot. Interestingly, the challenge coincides with the first time in the party’s history that it has had a Presidential candidate shown to be polling at 9% and deemed to have a probability of affecting the outcome of the election in that state. A longtime Democrat strategist was quoted in a Washington Times article as saying, “You’d have to be on the Mars rover not to know that Republicans don’t want Goode on the ballot.”
The Constitution Party of Virginia has issued a statement requesting that the Virginia Attorney General investigating the matter, also look into whether state election officials were influenced by or working with political operatives.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican Party has directly challenged the ballot petitions submitted by both the Constitution and Libertarian parties despite the fact that both parties submitted far more signatures than required by the already onerous ballot access laws of that state. An Associated Press article titled, Republicans Work to get Third-Party Hopefuls off State Ballot, points out that “analysts say Republicans are probably worried that conservatives dissatisfied with their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, will defect to Constitution or Libertarian party candidates.” That assessment is validated by the fact that the Republican Party chose to challenge only the two parties most likely to snatch up conservatives who are repulsed by the idea of voting for Romney, but no similar challenge was issued to any of the left leaning third parties.
In a thinly veiled attempt to justify the action, a Republican spokeswoman offers the absurd claim that they are concerned that Democrats are behind the petitions. Oh yes, those pesky Democrats are always going around putting pro-liberty, pro-Second Amendment, pro-life and pro-Constitutionally limited government candidates on the ballot.
To add an intimidation factor, the Constitution and Libertarian parties are under threat of having to pay the Republican Party’s court costs should the Republican Party succeed in denying these parties access to the ballot. The Republican Party has employed three law firms and is represented by five attorneys, putting Constitution and Libertarian party folk, whose chief assets consist of the shirt on their back, at risk of having to pay perhaps as much as $100,000.
In California, the newly implemented “top two” primary election system has effectively hamstrung the ability of any new parties to get on the ballot. The measure that implemented the top two primary was backed by business interests, health insurance corporations and “liberal Republican millionaires, like Charlie Munger Jr.” in the words of one article. Interestingly, the ACLU of Southern California is now going to bat for disenfranchised voters and third parties, suing the California Secretary of State on behalf of the Justice Party and the Constitution Party of California, which seek to have their nominees for President included on the November ballot.
On a brighter note, a victory for this most fundamental of freedoms has been won in Tennessee, but not without a fight. In 2010 a federal judge struck down the state’s ballot access law as unconstitutional. So what was the response from the Tennessee General Assembly? Pass a new law that still puts minor party and independent candidates at a disadvantage. In the wake of a suite against the new law by the Constitution and Green parties, a court has declared the state’s new ballot access law to also be unjustly oppressive of “we the people’s” right to access the public ballot and further deemed the law a violation of freedom of speech.
A Tennessee attorney involved in the case who is a seasoned veteran of both the court room and the political arena, stated that he was “amazed at how hard the state and its AG [attorney general] has fought to keep any dissenting voice from being on the ballot. Not just the CP [Constitution Party] but also the Greens and Libertarians. Not challenging our signatures but appeal of every court decision in our favor as long as possible, filing motions to make the appeal last longer, and objecting to attorney fees etc.”
I am hopeful that the current assault on third party candidates in Virginia and Pennsylvania will be thwarted and that the right of “we the people” to access the ballot will be upheld. However, the fact remains that these and other candidates seeking to bring an alternative voice to the political debate will not be on the ballot in several states where third party and independent candidates have effectively been legislated out of existence. Even when they manage to overcome onerous ballot access requirements, they are still at risk of being sued off the ballot by “major parties” who threaten to huff and puff and blow their house down.
I’ll be the first to admit that we need to be thankful for the level of freedom and access to the ballot that we have in America, but we also need to jealously defend the freedom that we have and work to restore the rights that have been subverted. Just because there is more than one candidate on the ballot, or even more than one party, it doesn’t mean you have truly free elections. Free elections only exist when every citizen and every group of citizens have the same access to the ballot and the same ability to have their voices heard as the dominant political powers of the day.
A chief cornerstone of our freedom, of our republican form of government and of our right to have our voice heard in the political arena, is indeed in peril and the assault is coming from the established political powers who seem unwilling to share access to the public ballot with “we the people.”