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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Constitution Party Gets Law, Constitution Wrong

...and supports out-of-state interlopers!

I'm reading the Constitution Party's lawsuit against Secretary of State Chris Nelson (and all of us). It's a fun read, but it won't win over any judges.

Right off the bat, the CP misinterprets South Dakota Codified Law:

The first allegation of a constitutional violation of S.D. Codified Laws 12-5-1.4 avers as unconstitutional the requirement that governor candidates of new political parties obtain 250 signatures of voters registered to vote as members of the new political party while established political parties need obtain signatures equal to only 1% of their party membership. Compare SD Codified Laws 12-5-1.4(1) with S.D. Codified Laws 12-6-7.

O.K., let's compare. SDCL 12-6-7 says petitioners for political public office must get signatures from a number of fellow party members not less than 1% of the number of votes their party's gubernatorial candidate got in their county, district, etc., in the last election. Now that is a potentially misleading statistic to use as the basis for signatures from your own party: the number of votes your party's gubernatorial candidate gets may include a number of Independents and folks from the other party. It's also worth noting that this signature rule actually favors the losers of the last election: Jack Billion's 2-to-1 loss to Mike Rounds in 2006 made it that much easier for Dems to get on this year's ballot (and we still didn't do it in several districts! Grrr!).

But SDCL 12-6-7 does not contradict or supersede 12-5-1.4, which establishes the additional requirement for statewide candidates to get at least 250 signatures. This additional condition is just like the requirement in Robert's Rules of Order of a 2/3 majority to move the previous question or a 1/3 second to consider an amendment. Such rules prevent a determined but tiny minority from throwing too many monkey wrenches into the system. If you can't find 250 people—0.05% of vote-eligible South Dakotans—to back your campaign, that's probably a sign that your candidacy isn't worth the ink we taxpayers would spend to print your name on the ballot... or to print the extra pages we'd need to fit all the yahoos like me who would run if we could just call ourselves a party, get three signatures, and "run for governor." (Web Wobblies in 2014!)

I do find the Constitution Party's second argument intriguing: the 250-signature minimum makes it impossible for the CP to have more than one candidate in the primary, since they only have 300-some registered members. Of course, I would suggest they still get it wrong: it's not the law that makes a CP primary impossible; it's the CP's failure to round up 500 or more members.

Connected with this argument is the contention that, given the current numerical impossibility of two CP candidates filing for the same statewide office and competing in a primary, a CP gubernatorial candidate should not have to file petitions by the primary deadline at the end of March but by the general election deadline of the beginning of June. I almost like that argument; however, it assumes that the CP will not enjoy recruiting success and end up with enough registered voters to support two candidates.

Suppose the CP's argument flew and we moved the party petition deadline to June. Suppose I then hear Constitution Party candidate Joy Howe is circulating petitions to run for governor. On April 1, after the primary filing deadline, I decide to throw a monkey wrench in the works and run for the same office. I switch my voter registration to Constitution (I might need a stiff drink), take out petitions, and encourage my friends to switch to Constitution and sign for me. I get 250 people to switch and sign (and don't think I couldn't!). We file by June 1, same day that Joy Howe trundles into Chris Nelson's office with her box of petitions. Uh oh! Now the Constitution Party has two candidates and no primary.

Oops—that's why the law sets the deadline for all parties back at the end of March. The law is actually more optimistic than the Constitution Party: it assumes a party might actually grow and win popular support.

The CP also throws in a surprise issue utterly non-germane to the main complaint: they grumble about the prohibition of non-residents circulating petitions in South Dakota. Here the Constitution Party seems to be trying to open the door for outside agitators like plaintiff and Arizonan Mark Pickens to work to build the party where it has failed to generate sufficient grass-roots interest. Boo-hoo. Pickens also asserts his voting rights are infringed by the out-of-state petitioner ban.

Plaintiffs Joy Howe and Marvin Meyer assert that the 250-signature rule violates all sorts of rights: freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom to run for office, even the right to vote for whom they want. Well, heck, if those arguments stand, I'm suing the South Dakota Democratic Party for not fielding U.S. Senate candidate. I might also sue Dr. Kevin Weiland for not filing his petitions in March. (I'm comin' for your wallet, Kevin! Better take out some more tonsils!)

This lawsuit goes nowhere. But thank you, Constitution Party, for some summer entertainment.

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