TENNESSEE’S BALLOT ACCESS LAW IS DESIGNED TO DENY BALLOT ACCESS

12 05 2018

I wanted to touch briefly on The Green Party of Tennessee’s candidate and prospects in the 2018 election. This is an issue we have litigated for years. We went through a frustrating cycle in which we would win court cases, and the judge would order the state to loosen up its ballot access laws. The state would ignore the decision. The judge would order the state to include our party name with our candidates’ names, and the state would do so for an election, and then drop us when none of our statewide candidates achieved the state-mandated minimum number of votes to stay on the ballot. Recently, the judge who saw things our way retired, and the last time we went to court, we got a different judge, who, in spite of numerous rulings in other courts holding laws like Tennessee’s unconstitutionally exclusive, upheld the state law. The gubernatorial candidate we are running,  Yvonne Neubert, is running as an “independent.” Even if she gets more than 5% of the vote, her win will not help get The Green Party back on the ballot.

yvonne

Barred by law from decaring herself “The Green Party candidate,” she sends the message subtly.

Let’s face it: Tennessee’s so-called “ballot access laws” are actually designed to keep other parties besides the D’s and R’s off the ballot. First of all, they were initially enacted in the early 60’s, as the “Dixiecrat” rebellion, conservative Southern Democrats opposed to racial integration, was gathering steam, in hopes of keeping George Wallace off the ballot in Tennessee. As it happens, there was enough support for Wallace and his “American Independent Party” in the state so that he and his party actually fulfilled the law’s requirements, collecting the nearly forty thousand signatures needed to get their party’s name on the ballot. No party has succeeded since.

There are two ways the law works against an up-and-coming party. The first is that the number of signatures required to place a party’s name on the ballot is large enough so that professional  petitioners are a necessity. That costs about two dollars per signature. Since not everybody signs correctly, or is even entitled to sign, it’s advisable to gather around twice the number of signatures needed. That means that a party that wants its name on the ballot needs to raise somewhere between sixty and a hundred thousand dollars just to get its name on the ballot for one election. If none of the party’s statewide candidates win 5% or more of  the vote, the party is back to square one, and has essentially been fined a very hefty sum just for trying.

Here’s the other way this law actually discourages new parties. Unless there’s been a mass defection from an existing party, meaning that there are experienced politicians who want to change their party affiliation, new parties build themselves from the ground up. They start locally, like PATHE here in Nashville and similar organizations in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis. If such movements could get on the ballot locally as political parties, their successful candidates would gain experience and recognition, becoming credible candidates for higher and higher offices as they learned more about how to translate their ideals and ideas into actual policy. Running a competitive, let alone successful statewide race is generally not the initiation, but the culmination of a political career.

But political parties don’t get to do that in Tennessee. Local candidates who are more radical than the state Democratic Party feels comfortable with (and that’s not very radical) are discouraged from running as Democrats for higher office, systematically preserving the status quo. Local groups who are more radical than the corporate Democratic Party are prevented from growing into organizations that might challenge the Democratic Party.

Our gubernatorial candidate, Yvonne Neubert, is a great person with some great ideas. She was Jill Stein’s state campaign director and has worked extensively with Tennessee NORM, but she has never served in any elected capacity.  Even so, she would bring more sanity to the job than whichever psychopath will end up being our next governor. She’s giving the run everything she’s got, but I will be surprised if she breaks the 5% barrier–and even if she does, because she is running as “an independent,” she will not succeed in winning a ballot line for The Green Party.

So that’s my view of the Green Party’s 2018 campaign in Tennessee. John F. Kennedy once said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” No, the Greens are not going to turn into violent revolutionaries. In fact, the US government, in spite of the conceits of NRA members, has enough of a monopoly on force so that violent revolution is, for the time being, all but impossible in America. What is not just possible, but already under way, however, is the breakdown of the institutions that hold  society together, even as new institutions, more appropriate to changing conditions, are legally prevented from arising.

Congratulations, Democrats and Republicans. You’ve ossified our political system. To paraphrase another head of state, King Louis XIV of France, “apres vous, le deluge.”

music:Richard Thompson, “You Can’t Win” (even more kickass live version here)

Jackson Browne, “Before the Deluge

Waterboys, “Let It Happen


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