When A Candidate Isn't Invited To The Party

By Chris Shorr, Portland Daily Sun

This past week Portlander Asher Platts, candidate for state senate out of District 27, has had some unrequested coverage in the press. After working doggedly for weeks to collect the necessary signatures for inclusion on the ballot, a longtime Portland Democrat named Anya Trundy challenged the validity of Platts' nomination papers. She filed an official challenge with the Maine Secretary of State's office, claiming that Platts was just shy of the 100 signatures needed.
Chris Shorr

Platts, a leader of the Maine Green Independent Party, responded with understandable frustration on Wednesday, describing the move as "legal shenanigans" and issuing a statement saying, "I once worked in the Democratic Party, for candidates like Dennis Kucinich. I left the Democratic Party because I saw disgusting skulduggery like this all the time. They're so afraid they'll lose if voters hear from young working class candidates with real world experience and proven, real-world policy solutions, that they are willing to use their lawyers to deny voter choice by keeping folks like me off the ballot. I was attracted to the Green Party because they have long advocated for more democracy, more citizen participation, and more choices at the ballot box — not limiting choice for voters, like I have seen the Democratic Party do using legal maneuvering, over and over."

In an email from Rachel Irwin, communications director for the Maine Democratic Party, Irwin wrote, "Based on the information available, Asher Platts did not meet the requirements for ballot access as set forth by the Secretary of State. The law is the law and this filing rule applies to all candidates, including Platts."

Just a few hours later, Trundy, who worked for the Maine Democratic Party for several years before 2010, decided to drop the challenge. In a statement issued by the Maine Democratic Party, Trundy said, "Information has come to light that Asher Platts has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, for that reason and given this new information, I'm withdrawing my request."

So in the end it boiled down to free press for Platts and pettiness for the Maine Democratic Party.

John Eder, Platts' campaign manager (full disclosure — he also helped me out in my campaign for city council this past fall), reacted to Trundy's revocation, "I'm sure the Dems realized they were giving Asher press so they decided to just drop it."

Eder continued, "The Dems said they were 'surprised' by our strong reaction to their attempt to kick our candidate off the ballot after a couple hundred hours of hard work by unpaid volunteers to get him there. That type of activity is so commonplace for them, that they don't even realize how bad or ugly it looks to voters to use lawyers to block the democratic process. They're so steeped in the muck that they just don't get it. That's one difference between us Greens and the other two parties, we'd never do that. We respect the democratic process and we want to use it for good — not evil. I mean geez, get out of Mordor once and a while!"

I'll admit, I had to Google the Mordor reference (think "Lord of the Rings"), but Eder makes a good point. The amount of time and effort that it takes for a Green Party candidate to get on the ballot — for a seat in the state legislature, for a statewide position such as governor, or for a Congressional seat — is exponentially more daunting than the work that a candidate for the Democratic or Republican party must put in.

This is because, for some reason that I can't explain without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, Maine has some of the most difficult stipulations for getting on the ballot in the entire country. But regardless of the Maine rules, Democrats and Republicans never have any trouble getting on the ballot. This is partially due to the fact that each major party is extremely well funded and strategically organized, but more due to the fact that petition signatures for nomination of candidates running as a member of a party (meaning everyone except Independents) must come from voters registered in the same party as the candidate.

Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong.

In a call to Tom MacMillan, a Green Party candidate running for state representative out of Portland's District 38 who also is the current chairman of the Portland Green Independent Committee, he said, "Greens have always had trouble collecting enough signatures because we have to get the same number as Democrats and Republicans even though we have a much smaller base to collect those signatures from. So it ends up where a Green state representative candidate has to spend weeks of concerted effort to go get signatures in the middle of winter just to get on the ballot. On the other hand, a Democrat or Republican can usually get all of their signatures in a day or two. So in Maine the way it breaks down is, if you're not in one of the two major parties you've got to either be independently wealthy and able to hire paid collectors or you've got to devote an absurd amount of time to get them on your own."

I asked him if he thinks the inequities in the system are there by design or by negligence. He replied, "I think neither Democrats or Republicans want Independents, or Greens, or Libertarians to run for office. I think that's well established."

Following a referral from MacMillan, I emailed Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News which is based out of California. On its website, ballot-access.org, Winger is billed as "the nation's leading expert on ballot access legal issues."

Here's what Winger had to say: "Maine is the only state that requires a substantial number of signatures, restricts signers to members of that candidate's party, and does not take into account how many members that party has."

He continued, citing unconstitutionality, "If the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Storer v Brown were enforced, the Maine law would be unconstitutional as applied to members of the Green Party. Storer v Brown, 415 US 724 (1974) said the way to evaluate petition burdens is to divide the number of signatures by the number of eligible signers, and if the resulting answer is over 5 percent, the law is unconstitutional."

This statement by Winger is particularly alarming when you take into account MacMillan's comments on the percentage issue, "I had to collect signatures from about 5 percent of all the registered Greens in my district, and that's in the West End where we have a lot of support comparatively. Over in the North Deering area we've got Sam Chandler running for State Rep. in District 36, he had to collect signatures from roughly 12 percent of the Greens registered in his district."

So if Anya Trundy is reading this — since she's so concerned with the nomination process — I wonder if she'll file a formal complaint about this Maine law that is apparently unconstitutional, arguably unethical, and obviously unfair.

Probably not.

(Chris Shorr is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta. He blogs at tides.bangordailynews.com and writes this column for the Weekend Edition of The Portland Daily Sun. Contact Chris by email at cshorr@hotmail.com.)

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