May 27, 2018
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Greening the Ballot

For the first time since 1994, Maine’s gubernatorial ballot won’t have a Green candidate on it in November. The lone Green candidate who tried to get on the ballot, Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, failed to secure the required 2,000 signatures of registered Greens.

Government, at the state and federal level, is better for having more parties. When third, fourth and fifth candidates enter the race, the debates move from two-dimensional to three-dimensional. If Ross Perot had not run for president in 1992, neither the American public nor Bill Clinton would have worried about the budget deficit. If Jonathan Carter had not run for governor in Maine in 1994, most Mainers south of Augusta would not have known what a clear cut was, or why they should care about them. If Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan had not run for president in 2000, the moderate policies being pitched by George W. Bush and Al Gore might have looked as different as night and day.

Maine would do well to have third-party candidates running for governor and the Legislature. Having those views represented in some numbers in the State House would force alternative views and coalitions to the traditional Democrat-Republican polarity.

But that does not mean getting on the ballot should be made easier, especially when third-party candidates, if they hope to win an election, must appeal to voters outside their caucus.

In statements to the news media, Ms. Williams complained that the ballot bar was set too high, given the fact that there are just 30,000 registered Greens. Democrats and Republicans have registered voters in the hundreds of thousands, Ms. Williams argues, and so have a much easier time of getting on the ballot.

Pat LaMarche, a BDN columnist, was a two-time Green gubernatorial candidate (1998 and 2006). She acknowledges that getting those signatures was not easy. But she believes lowering the required number is not the answer. When she ran in 2006, Ms. LaMarche hired a fellow Green, Jonathan Carter, to help direct signature-gathering efforts. Volunteers perused municipal voter lists and called Greens to arrange for signing; those who did not come to signing locations were sent petition forms and told to sign and return the form to the campaign.

Ms. LaMarche also conducted what she called a college tour, visiting campuses in the state, and not only garnering signatures, but also (first) enrolling young adults in the party. “We party built. That’s the role of a small party,” she said.

What comes after a minor party candidate gets on the ballot is of more interest to Ms. LaMarche. She advocates for allowing preference voting, in which voters rank their choices among candidates. The top two or three then compete in a run-off. Another version is called approval voting, in which people can vote for all the candidates they like, again resulting in a run-off.

Maine has been fertile ground for independent and third-party candidates. We are better off for that access to the ballot. But getting 2,000 people to sign a petition is a reasonable threshold.

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