The Pacific Green Party of Oregon is struggling to maintain their all-important ballot status. This is yet another example of the problems third parties and independents have with getting on and staying on the ballot. Ballot access rules are imposed by the two major parties and are designed to minimize competition from new parties and independents. If an organization is well-funded, it can often pay people to register voters and gather signatures. But small parties like the Pacific Greens don’t have that luxury. They must do it themselves, and with volunteer help.
The Oregon Secretary of State has ruled that the Pacific Greens must register at least 1,600 more voters before August 8 to maintain the one-half of one percent registration of the electorate needed for ballot status, or about 10,000 registered voters total. The Pacific Greens contend that a second method, having a party candidate get more than 1% of the vote in a general election can also be used. Their candidate for Secretary of State in 2008, Seth Woolley, got 3% in 2008. The Secretary of State disagrees so the Pacific Greens are suing to allow this criterion to be used.
The Pacific Greens have also launched a drive to register voters as Greens. To be safe in registration and petition drives, you need to get at least 50% more signatures than needed as some will almost certainly be disqualified because they are illegible or have the wrong address is used or the person isn’t actually a registered voter. And if it’s a contentious drive then the opposition may well challenge signatures.
So, the Pacific Greens will need at least 2,400 signatures. This will have to be done by unpaid volunteers from a party with that has a total registration of just 8,400. Tabling outside a supermarket in four hour shifts for new registrations might get 1-2 new registrations, or it might get none at all. You can see the problems faced by third parties. Getting new registrations is time-consuming and difficult. But contrast, a big party or political organization can simply hire 50 people and pay them per signature or by the hour. But then this becomes something other than citizen democracy and participation. My view is that paid signature gathering should be banned as it unfairly benefits those with deep pockets who can simply buy ballot access. We need our third parties. Historically, they are among the leading agents of change. Let’s not hinder them.
“History makes it clear that progress over the past couple of centuries has depended not only on social movements, but on independent small third parties. What they do is articulate visions, agendas and demands,” says Jill Stein, the favorite for the Green Party presidential nomination.