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International Socialist Review, Winter 1959


A “Free” Ballot?


From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.1, Winter 1959, p.2.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The exclusion of three minority parties from the ballot in New York in 1956 once again pointed up the hypocrisy of Washington’s boastful claim to the world that “free” America practices political democracy (except maybe in the South where progress, nevertheless, is being made).

The Socialist Labor party was ruled off the New York state ballot although it had collected 16,000 signatures on nominating petitions. The People’s Rights party was denied a place for its candidate Benjamin J. Davis of the Communist party in Manhattan’s 21st Senate District despite 6,000 signatures. Likewise brushed aside were the signatures in Manhattan’s 19th Congressional District supporting David McReynolds of the Socialist Party – Social Democratic Federation. Only the United Independent-Socialist party with 27,000 signatures managed to get on – after a difficult court fight that cut in heavily on time for campaigning.

How minority parties are deliberately barred from even placing the names of their candidates on the ballot is well explained in an article by Ralph Nader and Theodore Jacobs in the October 9 Harvard Law Record from which we would like to quote somewhat extensively for the information of our readers.

“In its Model Election Law, the American Civil Liberties Union urged that minor parties be required to accumulate signatures equivalent to only one-tenth of one percent of the total vote cast in the preceding gubernatorial election, with a maximum limit of 10,000 signatures. Compare this standard with the requirements of 2 percent in Missouri (36,000 votes), 3 percent in Massachusetts (71,643 votes), 5 percent in California (259,000 votes) and 7 percent in Ohio (259,000 votes) ...

“New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio demand that the signatures obtained on nominating petitions represent a prescribed number of counties throughout the state. Apportionment requirements often result in giving disproportionate power to rural areas and discourages urban and, in some cases, rural centered groups from availing themselves of the election process ...

“Regulations pertaining to authentication of signatures, even in states with liberal signature and apportionment legislation, provide further hurdles for small parties to overcome. Six states require individual notarization of every signature on a nominating petition.

“In Missouri, each of the 36,000 names needed must be certified by a notary who personally knows the signer or by two witnesses who can swear to his identity.

“Early filing dates, often four to six months before the election, effectively bar eleventh hour protest or splinter parties and force the gathering of signatures before the acme of the public’s political consciousness. In other states, the period within which signatures may be obtained is severely restricted. Pennsylvania, for example, requires that the total number of necessary signatures be obtained within a 20 day period.

“The potential group from which signers may be solicited is even limited in many states. Prevented from signing an independent nominating petition are those who voted in a contemporary party primary as well as voters affiliated with another party within a specified previous period ...

“One of the characteristics of an inflexible standard is the facility with which it can be abused in its enforcement. Thus, even when a minority party complies with all the major regulations there remains a fair possibility that the petition will be totally negated by a technical defect or omission often due to ambiguities in the election law ...

“Added to these legal obstacles have been a variety of pressures in the form of discriminatory judicial and administrative enforcement, and harassing, intimidating tactics by vigilante groups. The latter pressure has been expressed in the past by publishing petitions in newspapers to embarrass or black-list signers and even by physical violence against small party workers.”

(For the information of our foreign readers, we should like to point out that these arbitrary restrictions do not apply to the Democratic or Republican parties. These parties appear automatically on the ballot from year to year. The restrictive laws were enacted by the Republicans and Democrats specifically to maintain their monopoly of the ballot. In many instances when small parties have managed to get through the gauntlet, the Republicans and Democrats have “reformed” the laws – by making them still more dictatorial.)

The article calls attention to the important contributions minor parties have made in American history and to their “educative value” in the political process. It submits that it is a basic right “to present minority candidates before the electorate on equal terms with other parties.”

Exclusion blocks “perfectly legitimate aspirations. Access to the election slate not only permits the expression of public opinion but also has a high publicity value in marshaling greater support. It is the only practical way by which minor parties can say, ‘Republicans and Democrats – take notice!’”

“A democratic society should not dismiss a freedom as unimportant merely because it has comparatively little direct significance to the majority. We would do well to remember that suppression once sanctioned has epidemic qualities and that all of us are minorities in one framework or another.”

For a copy containing the complete article, the address 23 Everett St., Cambridge 38, Mass. The newspaper sells for 10 cents.

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