By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
Indiana voters contemplating their presidential choices may think they only have two — Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — but they’re wrong.
There are 17 other presidential candidates who hit an early July deadline to officially declare their intent to run in Indiana. But only one, Libertarian Gary Johnson, will appear on the ballot with the Democratic and Republican nominees.
The 16 other wannabe presidential contenders have to settle for “write-in” status, even though some of them, like Constitution Party candidate and former Virginia congressman Virgil Goode, will be on the ballot in other states.
Why is that? Election experts say it’s because Indiana has some of the toughest ballot-access laws in the nation — designed, they say, to narrow the choices of voters.
“It’s oppressive,” is how Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, describes the system that requires candidates to stump for signatures before they stump for votes.
To get on the ballot in Indiana, candidates for state or federal office have to gather thousands of signatures of valid voters in a relatively short period of time. Similar rules apply for minor party and independent candidates running for local offices and the state legislature.
The number of signatures required make for a high hurdle, even for major party candidates. This spring, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was left off the Indiana primary ballot after he came up short: Santorum couldn’t get the required 500 verified signatures from each of the nine congressional districts in the state to meet the state’s ballot requirements for presidential candidates.
For independent and minor party candidates it’s even tougher, said political scientist Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University Purdue University in Fort Wayne.
“Some states have much looser ballot-access laws that make it easier for minor party candidates,” Downs said. “We’re about as stringent as it gets.”
Illinois, Ohio and Michigan have all loosened their ballot-access laws and as a result are seeing more candidates without the Republican or Democrat label behind their name, Downs said.
In Indiana, there are 22 Libertarian candidates, including gubernatorial candidate Rupert Boneham, whose names are on the November ballot. They got there because the Libertarian Party was granted automatic ballot access in 1994, after its candidate for Secretary of State hit another mile-marker set by state election laws, when he captured two percent of the vote. The party’s share of the vote has inched up in every election since.
“It’s a huge advantage being on the ballot,” said Chris Spangle, executive director of the state Libertarian party. “Its sets us apart as the true ‘third party’ in Indiana.”
It’s a position that other minor party candidates both envy and are trying to emulate.
Earlier this month, two candidates running for the state House as members of the Indiana Socialist Party petitioned state election officials to get on the November ballot by submitting the mandatory voter petitions that would earn them a kind of third-party status.
If successful, they’ll be the first Indiana Socialist Party nominees to appear on the ballot since 1948.
A member of the Constitution Party has also petitioned to be on the ballot in a state House race; two judicial candidates running in local partisan races have petitioned the state to get on the ballot as “independent” candidates; and two Congressional candidates, one an independent and the other a Green Party member, have petitioned to get on the ballot as well.
All but one have submitted petitions with multiple signatures that will have to be verified by the state before ballot access can be granted.
Andrew Straw, a Goshen attorney running as a Green Party candidate in Indiana’s 2nd U.S. House District, has decided to challenge the system.
He’s submitted a petition containing only one certified voter signature to the Secretary of State’s Election Division. Straw contends Indiana’s ballot-access laws can’t be enforced by current Secretary of State Connie Lawson because she was appointed, not elected, to the position. Lawson was put into the job after her predecessor, Charlie White, was convicted on voter fraud charges.
Both Democrats and Republicans think Straw’s argument is based on a technicality that won’t win the day. But Straw is convinced it’s worth the fight. “Indiana ballot access laws are irrational and unfair,” Straw said. “I think they’re a violation of voters’ rights.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com.