Tennessee Ballot Access

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Copenhagen Document. There isn’t much particularly interesting or exciting within the document. It’s mostly affirmations of human rights.

But there is one article of note, particularly for Tennesseans:

“(7.6) — respect the right of individuals and groups to establish, in full freedom, their own political parties or other political organizations and provide such political parties and organizations with the necessary legal guarantees to enable them to compete with each other on a basis of equal treatment before the law and by the authorities;”

This is important because by any objective standard the Tennessee ballot access laws directly conflict with this statute.

Currently, for recognition as a minor political party and to have candidates listed on the ballot under the party’s name, a political party must gather signatures equal to or greater than 2.5% of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. To be on the ballot in 2018, the Libertarian Party must collect 33,844 signatures.

To run as a Republican, Democrat, or Independent one needs only 25 signatures.

But the Libertarian Party is working to change this clear violation of all Tennesseans voting rights with House Bill 0662 and its companion Senate Bill 0770.  Now, this wouldn’t create complete ballot access equality; it would reduce the number of signatures for parties other than the Republican or Democratic from 2.5% of the last gubernatorial race to a simple 5,000 signatures and bring Tennessee closer to compliance with the Copenhagen Document.

Furthermore, it would increase competitiveness in partisan races, give the more than 9,500 registered Libertarians in Tennessee an identified choice, and allow voters to distinguish Libertarian candidates from other candidates outside of the two major parties.

Faced with these benefits and the imperative to maintain free and fair elections, one is left mystified as to why a legislator would oppose the initiative.

One oppositional argument I’ve heard from a legislator (whose identity will be kept in confidence) is that such a measure would allow for any “fly by night” candidate to run and “cause a ruckus” or any “hair-brained political party” to get on the ballot.

This argument assumes candidates from either of the two major parties are not “fly by night,” by which I assume the legislator means obviously unfit for office by word or deed.  

This is objectively untrue. For both major parties.

It also ignores the fact that we Libertarians are the ones striving for ballot access equality. We are the ones sacrificing time with our families, taking time off from work, and putting in the labor to achieve this goal. Were we interested in “causing a ruckus”, or were our party “hair-brained”, would we really be doing the serious work of political reform?

Finally, it displays an ignorance of the internal procedures of the Libertarian Party itself. While the Republican and Democratic parties hold primaries to produce general election candidates (which is a cost to the voters), the Libertarian Party holds an internal election to select candidates. These internal elections provide a mechanism by which the party itself protects against unqualified or unserious candidates without burdening the taxpayer.

No. We must reject such silly arguments and assertions. The only reason any legislator would oppose ballot access equality is that they are fearful of competition; because the duopoly is hesitant to diminish its existing privilege.


ArticleJesse Fullington