The deck is stacked in favor of two major parties

Party or not, we all get to vote, so how is it that we all can’t run?

Secretary of State Bill Gardner laments the decline in participation, but continues to insure that the two major parties, as diverse within themselves as a big tent will permit, have an exclusive privilege to present themselves to their fellow inhabitants that non-party members are effectively denied.

The system is truly corrupt. The very legislators and the secretary of state elected by them all swear an oath to uphold the constitution, a document with no mention at all of political parties. Yet if you look at the intricate, and I might suggest, deliberate weaving of the election statutes to limit voter rights, not just in the right to vote but, perhaps more importantly, the right equally of any inhabitant to appear on the ballot as a candidate, party membership seems to be required and protected from competition.

In 2006, the ACLU sued over the constitutionality of RSA 655:17a, which requires 750 petitions to qualify for a place on the ballot. The secretary of state argued that this was one of three equal ways to gain ballot access and prevailed. There was no examination of the veracity of that argument, however.

When you examine the three supposedly equal ways to be a candidate you find that major party candidates pay a $25 fee and sign up. That’s one way.

If a major party candidate wants to save the fee he may file a minimal number of papers (100) with no review and no geographic limits and receive an answer by filing deadline. Most pay.

Minor parties and/or independents are required to pay the $25 fee and gather 750 nomination papers designed by the secretary of state. Those who are domiciled and qualified but not registered cannot sign. Those outside the bounds of the district, registered or not, cannot sign.

Once the forms are signed, the signatures must be verified by a majority of each town’s supervisors of the checklist. All this must be done during the dog days of summer, taking time away from campaigning.

If you think this sounds like a snipe hunt, you might be right. Elections ought to be about ideas, not just parties and platforms. In fact, this last election had at least two major party candidates disavowing planks in their party’s platforms. They lost but had no problem getting on the ballot. In New Hampshire, principles matter.

The attempts to encourage voter turnout are doomed to fail without addressing voter choice, not just what the two parties offer. Since the number of independents in the voting population will soon exceed the total of both parties, perhaps it’s time to abolish our caste system.

Tom Stawasz of Hollis, a retired Realtor and teacher, served as a Republican state senator in 1995-96.

Categories: Opinion