An election-reform bill working its way through the Arizona legislature would set next-to-impossible hurdles for Green candidates hoping to win their party's presidential nomination.
Currently, all Arizona law requires from candidates (of any party) to get on the primary ballot is a notarized form -- no signatures, no filing fee. HB 2379, however, which was introduced by state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R) and has so far passed the House with little opposition, would require candidates to collect 1,000 signatures before qualifying for the ballot.
The problem: As of the first round of unofficial election results, only about 500 people voted in the 2012 Green primary. That's 500 people, total. The winning candidate, Jill Stein, earned just 350 votes and that was a landslide. None of the other five Green candidate broke triple digits.
That means, to get on the ballot, a Green Party candidate would have to collect about four times as many signatures as votes it takes to win the election.
"Signatures are but one method to gain ballot status," Matthew Roberts, spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who supports the bill, says in an email after I pointed this out. "The intent is not to disenfranchise."
The other two methods Roberts cites are just as implausible for Green candidates. A candidate can show that he or she is on the ballot in 20 other states. OK, but -- according to the Green Party of the United States' presidential campaign calendar, only six states and the District of Columbia are holding Green primaries in 2012.
A candidate can also get on the ballot if he or she has met the FEC threshold for matching funds, raising $5,000 in campaign donations from each of 20 states. A week before the Arizona election, Stein had only succeeded in raising $5,000 from two states. Her campaign's goal is to increase that to ten states by March 15.
The bill's sponsor, and newspapers that have editorialized in support, tout the measure as reasonable since it will keep gratuitous candidates out of the major primaries. In the 2012 Republican primary, for example, there were 23 presidential candidates on the Republican ballot, over half of which were participating in Project White House, a "reality journalism" competition sponsored by the Tucson Weekly. The candidates, most of whom weren't running in other states, completed challenges (such as attending "beer summits" with voters, answering questionnaires, and shooting campaign videos) in an effort to win the alt-weekly's endorsement.
"What we do is get people who just want to throw their name in the ring so that they can say they ran for president," Farnsworth told Capitol Media Services. "I don't think that's necessarily good for the process, because it's confusing to go in (to the voting booth) and see names that they've not even heard of."
That's a bit precious, considering that supporters of Farnsworth's buddy, state Sen. Russell Pearce, ran a fake candidate late last year in Pearce's recall election to siphon off progressive votes.
And at least the Project White House candidates were still running when Arizonans went to the ballot box -- Rick Perry, who came in sixth, dropped out weeks earlier.
I happened to help with Project White House, serving as the moderator for two televised debates (highlight reel here), one of which re-ran on Tucson's public-access station in the week leading to the primary. That's one debate more than the supposedly legitimate candidates attended in Arizona. These PWH candidates, though sometimes silly, worked their tails off to earn their votes.
The eventual winner of the PWH competition, Sarah Gonzales, received more than 1,460 votes in the Republican primary. She came in sixth, beating nationally recognized candidate Buddy Roemer by more than 2-to-1. Her Tucson Weekly endorsement probably helped, but not as much as the fact that she was the only Latina -- nay, the only woman on the Arizona ballot. This is just my reasoned speculation, but a lot of her support must've come from voters who want to see more diversity in the Republican field.
Would Gonzales have run if it required 1,000 signatures? Maybe not. Could she have collected them? Probably. But, heck, even some of the top main candidates could blow that challenge: Jon Huntsman couldn't even get his Arizona application notarized properly.
America has a long tradition of no-shot-in-hell candidates running for president with the aim of making a point or advancing their philosophies or just laying the groundwork for the next, several presidential campaigns. Look at Ron Paul. Heck, look at Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, the whole lot of them. If wanting to be able to brag that you once ran for president was a disqualifier, who would actually run for it?
It comes down to this: On Feb. 28, approximately 5,000 Republican voters and 500 Green voters cast ballots for fringe candidates. Bennett and Farnsworth are pushing a bill that would suppress their right to vote against the mainstream again in 2016.