EDITORIAL: Ballot access campaigns for alternative parties are about to become much harder

Libertarian ballot access Illinois
Brian Lambrecht collects petition signatures during a ballot access drive for the Libertarian Party of Illinois. Recent restrictions set forth by Gov. JB Pritzker will make ballot access efforts more difficult (Courtesy photo, DuPage Libertarians)

(Heartland Newsfeed) — As each state is slowly making restrictions on events with attendance over a specific threshold as the result of the COVID-19 coronavirus, those restrictions have a wide-spreading impact on alternative parties wishing to gain ballot access on the general election ballot in November.

Thursday, a joint press release was pushed out jointly by Libertarian Party of Iowa chairman Mike Conner, Jr. and Iowa Green Party co-chair Erin Young regarding COVID-19 and how this will impact their candidate filing deadlines:

Across the globe, concerns have been high about the spread of COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus. As of Thursday morning, Iowa health officials have reported 14 known cases of the virus right here in Iowa. On Monday, March 9th, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a disaster proclamation in response to the virus, and while there is still much to be learned about the virus, citizens across the state have justifiably been concerned of the impact it may have. 

With the filing deadline rapidly approaching for Iowans interested in running Federal, State, and County office, the Libertarian Party of Iowa and the Iowa Green Party have both considered the potential risk for individuals that are petitioning for candidacy as well as citizens that may be approached to sign the nominating petition. While both parties want Iowans to have multiple options to choose from on the ballot in November, the health and safety of Iowans will always be paramount. 

With these concerns in mind, the Libertarian Party of Iowa and the Iowa Green Party have decided to reach out to the offices of Secretary of State Paul Pate and  Governor Kim Reynolds to propose a reprieve on the filing deadlines, until such point that we are certain much more confident that all candidates and Iowans can safely engage in the nominating petition process. We look forward to working with Secretary Pate, Governor Reynolds, and state officials to prioritize the health and safety of all Iowans.

Richard Winger from Ballot Access News reported on a similar joint statement by the Libertarian and Green parties of Maryland:

The Maryland Libertarian and Green Parties are calling on the General Assembly, Governor, and Board of Elections to place them on the ballot for the November general election, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Both parties have been petitioning throughout the state to each collect over 10,000 signatures to get back on the ballot, but their petition drives have ground to a halt, because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“As people who have a great deal of success in qualifying for the ballot, we would ask that the Governor, General Assembly, and the Board of Elections understand the effect this state of emergency has had on peoples’ willingness to be approached by a stranger, let alone take a pen or clipboard”, said Libertarian Party Executive Director Dan Fishman.

“Additionally, though all of our petitioners are healthy and would be benched at the first sign of illness, Corona is apparently often spread by people who are asymptomatic.”

“Paid and volunteer Green Party petitioners have been doing what we do every four year to be on the ballot. We gather signatures in public areas, at large gatherings, and door-to-door, but this has become untenable and potentially unsafe with the public health crisis and state of emergency we now face,” said Maryland Green Party co-chair Andy Ellis.

The Libertarian and Green Parties have been active in Maryland for over 20 years, consistently running candidates, lobbying the General Assembly, and holding outreach events, thereby having established their regular participation in the democratic process. That continued participation should not be made impossible or dangerous due to the declared public health emergency.

Rich Whitney from the Illinois Green Party reached out to current Libertarian Party of Illinois chair, former chair Lex Green and yours truly in response to an email I had sent to seek partnership with the Green and Constitution parties to support currently-proposed reforms to the Election Code, which is focused on eliminating the petitioning threshold multiplier of new parties and independents.

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A lawsuit against the Illinois State Board of Elections will be filed, but I am pondering my options as the Political Director of the Libertarian Party of Illinois and will take into serious deliberation advice from Bennett and Lex, as well as the incoming administration of Steve Suess as chair and Donny Henry as vice-chair, the Board of Directors and the State Central Committee before making a final decision.

In Illinois, you are required to collect a minimum of 25,000 petition signatures as a new party or independent candidate but have to get nearly double that (or more) to survive a potential challenge. The restrictions set Thursday by Gov. JB Pritzker will make our ballot access efforts much more difficult than 2018. Similar restrictions in Iowa, Missouri and Maryland among 14 other states will make ballot access efforts in 2020 much harder.

Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network and a contributing writer for My Sports Vote, Ambush Sports and Midwest Sports Network. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dogs Sparky and Buster.

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