Since the beginning of the United States, the worst legislation has always been that which enshrined in law one form or another of discrimination against people deemed unworthy of the right to be heard or treated fairly in the public arena.
It would require a very thick book to list all of the laws that have existed and still exist in the local, state and federal statutes that lend the force of law to one form or another of discrimination against various classes of people.
One such form of discrimination that has become part of state law, and is not recognized by the vast majority of the population, is found in the restrictive requirements for ballot access placed on minor political parties and independent candidates.
The major parties have long recognized that the simplest way to dispose of political competition is to legislate it out of existence. Between the major parties this is done by gerrymandering. When faced by a challenge from independents or minor parties, the weapon of choice is the imposition of ballot access requirements. As a result of these laws, if you do not wish to vote for either Republicans or Democrats, then your choices at the ballot box are circumscribed by the candidates approved by the major parties.
Ballot access requirements vary from state to state, but most often consist of a petition process mandating a minimum number of signatures of registered voters. The petitions may have enormous numbers of signatures, very short deadlines, or both. In North Carolina, this process has been altered over the years, with the bar being continually raised as the major parties sought a solution whereby they would not be threatened by independent or third party candidates. The idea that no one could have anything of value to contribute to the political process or could not possibly make a good candidate unless one belonged to either of the major political parties, if stated in a public setting, would rightly be ridiculed as nonsense. Yet exactly that sentiment is reflected in our ballot access laws. The major parties are of course exempt from the requirements they impose on the rest of the population.
These laws have been challenged in the courts with little success, for the federal courts have generally held that elections are the purview of the states. In the absence of federal intervention, some states have allowed third party and independent candidates equal access to the ballot or have lowered the barriers to that access to reasonable levels.
North Carolina is not among them. But the Voter Freedom Act of 2013 (HB 794) would bring North Carolina much closer to allowing third parties and independent candidates a fair shot at competing in partisan races. This bill, currently sitting in the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate, would reduce the number of signatures required to be recognized as a party or as an independent candidate for statewide office from approximately 90,000 to 11,500.
The committee leader, Sen. Tom Apodaca, has the power to allow this bill to be moved into a committee for study, as is called for in its current form. This action was approved by the House and Senate, but then the bill was not moved.
North Carolinians are tired of being allowed to vote only for the canned candidates approved by the Democratic and Republican machines. Lawmakers need to move the Voter Freedom Act back to the Senate floor or to the committee that is best suited to consider its ramifications.
Wayne Turner of Chapel Hill is state chairman of the Green Party.