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Maybe Maryland’s Ballot Access Laws are Too Lenient

During my time as Northeast Regional Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation, I worked with friends and colleagues from around the region and around the country promoting Republicans and, of course, talking shop.

One of the things I often heard from these folks was a common refrain: “Maryland’s ballot access laws are very lax.” I was often a defender of these ballot access laws because it allowed everybody a seat at the table. It allowed everybody to participate.

Now…..I’m not so sure that’s a good idea, at least for Congressional elections. We had an extensive conversation about this topic on this week’s Red Maryland Radio.

To run for Congress in Maryland as a Democrat or Republican, you need only to file with the State Board of Elections and pay a $100 filing fee. To run as another party with ballot access, you need to do both of those things and be designated as the nominee by the party. That’s it. To run for the U.S. Senate, the requirements are the same but the filing fee is $290. When you look at some of the ballot access requirements you’ll notice how much stringent they are in many states. Ballotpedia compiles all of this information in one place. Take a look at what some other states have as Senate and Congressional ballot requirements:

State US Senate Requirements US House Requirements
California 7,000 signatures OR $3,480 fee (2% of the annual salary) 2,000 signatures OR $1,740 fee (1% of the annual salary)
Connecticut Receive at least 15 percent of the votes cast by convention delegates at a nominating convention OR collect signatures equal to at least 2 percent of the total number of members enrolled in that major party in the state. Receive at least 15 percent of the votes cast by convention delegates at a nominating convention OR collect signatures equal to at least 2 percent of the total number of members enrolled in that major party in the district.
Delaware $10,400 (1% of the six-year aggregate salary). A candidate may file an in-lieu-of-filing-fee petition if he or she is considered indigent by the state. To be considered indigent by the state, the candidate must be receiving benefits under the Supplemental Security Income Program for Aged, Blind, and Disabled, or the state election commissioner must determine that the candidate meets the income and resources test to receive such benefits. $3,480 (1% of the two-year aggregate salary). A candidate may file an in-lieu-of-filing-fee petition if he or she is considered indigent by the state. To be considered indigent by the state, the candidate must be receiving benefits under the Supplemental Security Income Program for Aged, Blind, and Disabled, or the state election commissioner must determine that the candidate meets the income and resources test to receive such benefits.
Florida Petition signatures equal to 1% of registered voters in the state AND $6,960 fee (4% of the annual salary AND a $3,480 “party assessment” (2% of the annual salary) Petition signatures equal to 1% of registered voters in the district AND $6,960 fee (4% of the annual salary AND a $3,480 “party assessment” (2% of the annual salary)
Maine At least 2,000 petition signatures, but no more than 3,000 petition signatures At least 1,000 petition signatures, but no more than 1,500 petition signatures
Massachusetts 10,000 petition signatures 2,000 petition signatures
New Hampshire $100 fee AND 200 petition signatures $50 fee AND 100 petition signatures
New Jersey 1,000 voters in the state who are members of the applicable political party 200 registered voters from the congressional district
New York Signatures of enrolled party members equal to 5% of all party members statewide Signatures of enrolled party members equal to 5% of all party members in the congressional district
Ohio $150 fee AND 1,000  petition signatures of qualified electors who are members of the same political party as the candidate $85 fee AND 50 petition signatures of qualified electors who are members of the same political party as the candidate
Pennsylvania 2,000 petition signatures 1,000 petition signatures
Rhode Island 1,000 petition signatures 500 petition signatures
Texas $5,000 fee $3,125 fee
Vermont 500 petition signatures 500 petition signatures
Virginia 10,000 petition signatures, including 400 qualified voters from each congressional district 1,000 petition signatures
West Virginia $1,740 fee (1% of annual salary) $1,740 fee (1% of annual salary)

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You’ll now notice how comparatively easy it is for Maryland candidates to get on the ballot compared to these states.

So what’s the downside of all of this? Have you seen how crowded the ballot is in Maryland this year? Just looking at the Republican side, here are the total number of candidates filed for Congress this year:

  • 1st District: 2
  • 2nd District: 7
  • 3rd District: 4
  • 4th District: 3
  • 5th District: 5
  • 6th District: 2
  • 7th District (Special): 7
  • 7th District (Regular): 7
  • 8th District: 5

That’s not even when you consider that 12 candidates ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2018. Or the fact that Democrats have 32 running in the 7th Congressional District.

So what’s the downside to all of this? The main problem is that you get candidates who run year after year, saying the same things over and over again. I don’t mean to pick on (all) of these candidates but you always see names like Ray Bly, Scott Collier, Pinkston Harris, William Newton, running as Republicans year after year. Democrats have these candidates too, like John Rea, Charles Smith, and Lih Young. But when it comes to Republicans, you have a party that is already running in districts where we are running an uphill battle, and every year we see candidates put their names on the ballot while never actually putting any effort into winning an election.

And when you get some of these names year after year, sometimes you get stories like the one the Baltimore Sun published yesterday:

Candidate William Newton, who is second vice chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, describes himself on his website as a “Real Constitutional Conservative.” He declined to be interviewed for this article.

In his answers to The Baltimore Sun’s questionnaire for its voter guide, Newton said he is running to “seek solutions to inequality and systemic injustice, defend our Constitution, our people’s rights and be on the side of Truth and Integrity in governance.”

Court records show Newton pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor embezzlement charge. He was sentenced to five years of probation. Baltimore County prosecutor Adam Lippe said Newton was charged with misappropriation by a fiduciary after improperly transferring his mother’s property to his girlfriend. Through his attorney, Kurt Roper, Newton declined to comment on the case.

Candidate Ray Bly, who owns Ray’s Used Appliances, was charged in 1986 with child abuse and a fourth-degree sex offense, according to court records. The 70-year-old Jessup resident said in a phone interview that he was wrongfully convicted and he is running to reform the criminal justice system. He supports “Medicare for all” and said he wants “to improve conditions for all people, especially the working class.”

So needless to say, none of this does much for Bly or Newton’s standing with Republican voters. But it doesn’t do much for Republicans either, locally or statewide. While we are rightfully discussing the culture of corruption and criminality within the Maryland Democratic Party, these two guys are simultaneously running under the Republican banner. And they have no plan and, seemingly, no desire to actually run a campaign. Their presence on the ballot, their presence at candidate forums and debates harm the credibility of the entire field. Other perpetual candidates who always put their names on the ballot but never put any effort into winning do the same in other races as well. Their presence on the ballot, their presence at forums, their presence in news stories like this wastes my time, wastes their time, and wastes the time of people attending these forums and reading the paper.

So are the filing requirements in Maryland too lenient? If you compare them to these other states listed above, they are among the most lenient in the country. Perhaps it’s time that in addition to a filing fee the state requires a minimum number of signatures in order to make the ballot. Maybe they just need to put the smallest bit of effort into being a candidate if they want to earn the right to be heard.

 

 



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