Minor parties blocked by gatekeeper

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Why do minor parties have so much trouble getting on the New Mexico ballot?

Secretary of State Mary Herrera has ruled that the Greens and the Libertarians are not qualified parties so she refuses to accept nominating petitions from their candidates.

The reason why it is difficult to be a qualified minor party is that they can affect election outcomes.

Democrats look at the elections of Republicans Bill Redmond to Congress and Gary Johnson to the governor’s office as having been caused by strong Green candidates who took votes from Democratic candidates.

The Greens very likely did take some votes from Democrats. Whether it was enough to affect the elections, we’ll never know. Greens said most of their support came not from Democrats but from new voters they attracted to the polls.

Regardless of the effect, it was a message to the two major parties that the presence of new kids on the block could be dangerous. The issues supported by Greens are mostly Democratic issues which Democrats weren’t supporting strongly enough.

Libertarians are more often in agreement with Republican stands. They aren’t as organizable as Greens but Republicans realized the possibility that they could be bitten at some point.

Consequently, a subsequent legislature made life more difficult for minor parties. If New Mexico Tea Partiers become as well organized as those in Nevada and South Carolina, they could take votes from Republicans. So far, Tea Party efforts have been within the Republican Party to take it over internally.

The main problem for minor parties in New Mexico is that not only do their candidates have to gather nominating petition signatures, the party has to also. And it is a very large number.

A party has to be fairly well organized to collect enough petitions. The Green Party is slipping. Only about 20 people reportedly attended its state convention this year. The leaders said that many Greens became Democrats two years ago to support Barack Obama, thinking he would be a major supporter of their issues. Now they aren’t so sure. They are hoping some of those new Democrats come back.

The Greens are trying to get the signatures necessary to qualify as a major party but they also are filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of placing greater requirements on minor parties.

The lead lawyer in that suit is Alan Woodruff of Albuquerque. He attempted to file as a Green candidate for Congress in the 1st Congressional District but Herrera refused to accept his petitions,

Woodruff filed a similar suit in federal court a year ago, shortly after he was nominated as the Libertarian candidate for Congress. Woodruff said the court declared some portions of the New Mexico election code unconstitutional but without a final ruling.

The result is total confusion. Rick Lass, a Green candidate for the Public Regulation Commission in 2008, polled enough of the vote to qualify the Greens as a major party. But instead, Herrera de-certified the party because it didn’t meet other requirements.

Woodruff argues that Herrera didn’t meet the requirements of the law before de-certifying the party. Efforts to mediate the confusion have been unsuccessful.

Herrera’s actions likely are what the state Democratic Party would like to see and they also help her personally. She has refused to accept the filing of Terry Mulcahy, the Green Party candidate for secretary of state.

Woodruff said his suit isn’t just about getting on the ballot. It’s about the principle that voters are entitled to choices, which should not be limited by unfair rules.

Yes, you read correctly that both the Libertarian and Green parties have nominated Woodruff for Congress. The American Reform Party and the New American Independent Party have also endorsed him.

And no, a candidate cannot run under the banner of two different political parties. A candidate who wanted to be on the ballot twice and add his votes together has tested that.

Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.