The purpose of an election is to give voters the opportunity to
change their government — to replace the people who run it and the
policies which have hitherto prevailed.
It is a strange thing, therefore, when the government places itself
in the position of deciding in what manner eligible citizens may
exercise their right to support such changes.
For much of American history, there was no such thing as an “official
ballot,” let alone a requirement of state-approved ballot access. In the
early days of the Republic, voters, known to their neighbors, stepped
forward in public assembly to declare their preferences.
Once the Australian ballot — the secret ballot — was adopted
(beginning in Massachusetts, in 1888), voters could mark the names of
their preferred candidates on any piece of paper and deposit this
unregulated expression of preference in the ballot box. Eventually,
political parties developed “slate cards” which could be placed in
ballot boxes by their adherents.
It has only been in this century that the notion of an “official”
ballot, produced by the government, came to be the exclusive means by
which citizens may register their choices.
Arguments in favor of “official ballots” ranged from efficiency and
accuracy in vote counting, to the screening out of persons who had not
given notice of their candidacies.
Nonetheless, onerous requirements encompassing ways and means of
gaining access to the official ballot have, all to often, become a means
for restricting the ability of candidates to stand for election, and of
voters to have a free choice in determining who shall hold positions of
“Equal protection of the law” and “equal justice under the law” are
core principles of American jurisprudence. But, tragically, those
principles are often ignored by political incumbents who help erect
barriers to organized participation in the election process by American
citizens who prefer to exercise their Constitutional rights outside the
confines of the Republican and Democratic parties.
Republican and Democratic Party candidates for Federal, and State
office as well, typically face only one hurdle in order to have their
name appear on the official electoral ballot. Either by petition or
caucus nomination, they are permitted to take the first step toward the
possibility of election.
For others, however — those wishing to identify with a not yet
recognized political party — the barriers to entry are usually high and
Election laws too often create obstacles which are particularly
burdensome to citizen taxpayers and voters who are not professional
politicians. Each of the procedures by themselves may seem defensible,
or even reasonable — but, taken as a whole, they constitute a dense
thicket of brush and briar difficult to traverse even in the context of
conscientious effort and professional assistance.
For good or ill, the long patterns of American history has been to
facilitate access to the ballot box rather than restrict it.
Historically, the right to vote has been extended to include persons
outside the prevailing Christian faith, persons without property,
African Americans, women, persons as young as 18 — indeed, in Federal
elections, even residence requirements have been virtually eliminated.
But there is still one aspect of electoral participation in which the
barriers to entry remain high, and that is with respect to American
citizens and taxpayers whose political views are “politically incorrect”
or “politically unconnected,” in that they seek the option of
considering candidates on party lines outside the Republican and
Howard Phillips is chairman of the U.S. Taxpayers Alliance (450 Maple
Avenue East, Vienna, Virginia 22180, 703-281-9426 fax 703-242-0796), a
non-partisan 501(c)4 issue/action non-profit corporation committed to
cutting the federal government down to constitutional size and restoring
the biblical foundations of the American system.