As many of you may have heard, I will be on the ballot for Harrisonburg City Council this November. There will be six candidates and I am the only one running as an independent.
In order to qualify, I needed to collect the signatures of 125 registered voters in the city. It was a task that required a number of hours spread over several days. Although it isn’t that difficult to garner 125 signatures, I discovered that a fair number of people aren’t registered to vote even though they think they are, are registered someplace else than where they think, or their penmanship is so poor that their information is unreadable. Thus, although I turned in around 150 signatures originally, I was required to go out again and collect more.
By comparison, how many signatures did the Republican and Democratic candidates need in order to make the ballot? Well, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections, the answer is only one, the signature of their respective city party chairman. This difference might leave you scratching your head. It doesn’t really seem fair that independents and third party candidates require a signature drive but Republicans and Democrats do not, does it?
Now, I have no objections to requiring candidates to collect signatures in order to make the ballot. After all, doing so shows that he or she has at least some element of support or campaign structure. But to have this system where the Republican and Democratic candidates get a leg up on their competitors seems a bit off to me.
Now you might say, sure, it might not be right that there is this system whereby some candidates are required to jump through extra hoops and are treated as second class, but 125 signatures isn’t all that much. Well, hold on to your hats because it is about to get worse.
Besides our local races, we are also electing members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate this year. Assuming you are a Republican or Democratic candidate and you are not nominated via a primary, you only need the signature of the appropriate party chairman according to the State Board of Elections. Independent and third party candidates need 1,000 signatures to make the ballot for House and 10,000 in order to make the Senate! This high threshold discourages folks from running as acquiring as much as 10,000 signatures requires significant campaign structure, party backing, and/or money in order to meet the mark. Again, the rules are strict, but they wouldn’t be that bad if they were applied equally to all candidates irrespective of party; unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I’m of the opinion that more choices creates a richer and more dynamic political system where voters have a greater opportunity to support and elect candidates who are more in line with their values. Regrettably, as the system has been set up and maintained by the two major parties, there is a strong incentive to squelch competition to preserve their own power base.
So, let me ask you this question: Is it simply too much to ask that everyone be treated fairly and equally?