Full and fair access to the electoral process is a right central to democracy  

Coalition for Free and Open Elections


The meeting was held at noon on Sunday, February 1, in the meeting room of Local One, Lithographers Union (ALA/IBT) in New York city. In attendance were:

1. Harry Kresky, Committee for a United Independent Party
2. Alice Kelsey, Socialist Party
3. Elliot Traiman, Socialist Party
4. Gloria Mattera, Green Party
5. Richard Winger, Libertarian Party
6. David Pechesky, Green Party
7. Reform Party, Tom McLaughlin
8. Larry Moskowitz, Working Families Party
9. Christina Tobin, Free and Equal
10. Joshua Starcher, Free and Equal
11. Melissa Starcher, Free and Equal

Gary Odom from the Constitution Party, and Michael Richardson from the Nader 2004 campaign, both wanted to come, but neither were free on February 1.

Local One not only let us use its meeting room, but furnished us with food and drink. Thanks to Larry Moskowitz for arranging this.

Minutes of last year's meeting were summarized. Officers re-elected to one-year terms are: Chair Tom McLaughlin, Vice-Chair Gary Odom, Treasurer Alice Kelsey. The new Secretary is Gloria Mattera.

The treasurer's report said that COFOE has just over $3,000 in the bank (after a pending check from COFOE clears).

The Green Party national office kindly paid the Post Office another year's post office box rental. That PO Box is Box 19082, Washington DC 20036-9082.

Old business: the Board voted that organizations represented on the board should pay $50 to COFOE once per year. The Socialist Party has already paid its 2009 dues and the Reform Party paid them at the meeting. Invoices will be sent to the other organizations represented on the Board, although the invoice sent to the Green Party will be adjusted to recognize the Green Party's having paid the post office box rent.

Richard Winger reported that the problem of having no attorney for the North Carolina independent candidate ballot access lawsuit had been solved. The case is being handled by Law Professor Robert Bastress of West Virginia, pro bono. The case challenges the procedures for independent candidates for Congress, which are so restrictive, there has never been an independent candidate on a government-printed ballot in North Carolina, for either house of Congress. The lawsuit is called Greene v Bartlett, and it challenges the 4% (of the number of registered voters) petition, which sometimes requires as much as 20,000 signatures. The state had tried to get the case transferred to the eastern district of North Carolina, but the judge who has the case in the western district ruled that venue is proper in the western district.

The Alabama case also got filed since our last meeting. It was filed on July 31, 2008, by Arlene Richardson.

New business: the Board voted to contribute $2,000 for the costs of printing a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Illinois independent candidate ballot access case, Stevo v Keith. The law being challenged requires exactly 5,000 signatures for independent candidates for the U.S. House in years ending in "2", but approximately 11,000 signatures in all other election years. This disparate signature requirement has existed for over 30 years, and during that period no independent candidate for US House has qualified in Illinois, whether in years with the somewhat easier requirement, or in years with the tougher requirement. The lawsuit argues that there can be no valid state interest in requiring more than 5,000, since in years in which the 5,000 is in existence, there is obviously no ballot clutter since no independent has even done a 5,000-signature petition. But the 7th circuit upheld the law in a very short opinion that didn't even mention the leading U.S. Supreme Court precedent for these types of cases, called Illinois State Board of Elections v Socialist Workers Party. Law professor Mark Brown is doing the case pro bono but the printing costs for a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court are expensive.

The Board voted to contribute $500 now for costs in the Georgia ballot access case, Coffield v Williams. The case challenges the 5% (of the registered voters) petition for an independent candidate for U.S. House, which is so severe, it hasn't been used since 1964. Back in 1964, the petitions weren't checked and weren't due until October, and congressional district lines didn't cross county lines, so high petition validity rates were easier to attain. The Board also voted authority to spend another $500 on costs in this case in a few months, when there is enough money in the account and when the costs will be incurred. The attorney is Gary Sinawski. COFOE had not previous contributed to this case.

Christina Tobin spoke about her two organizations. The Free and Equal Elections Foundation,, has 501(c)(4) status and has Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Flickr accounts. It will lobby for better ballot access and help with lawsuits. It wants to help publicize the Stevo appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Christina Tobin is in a good position to do this, since she lives in Illinois. She also formed another entity named Free and Equal Elections Inc., which will be a petitioning company.

Harry Kresky suggested that COFOE write a letter to Rahm Emanuel and urge that President Obama appoint someone to the Federal Election Commission who is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Harry will write a proposed letter and e-mail the text to other Board members.

Richard Winger suggested that COFOE resolve that South Carolina should not repeal the legal ability of two political parties to jointly nominate the same candidate. A bill pending in the legislature, H 3067, would ban fusion. Larry Moskowitz will consult with the lobbyist for the Working Families Party in the South Carolina legislature to see if this proposed letter would be helpful, and if so, what the letter should include. If Larry gets the go-ahead, he will draft a proposed letter and e-mail it to other COFOE board members. The Board voted to send the letter, but the Green Party representative abstained from this vote.

Harry Kresky showed other board members a copy of CUIP's "Open Letter to President Barack Obama from the Independent Movement." The letter advocates that Congress be asked to require political parties to let independents vote in their primaries.

Richard Winger said that COFOE gets its revenue mainly from people who contribute as a result of receiving Ballot Access News, and asked other Board members for help in circulating BAN to activists in the various parties that don't already receive it, but who might wish to receive it.

Richard Winger also mentioned that the ACLU is doing good work in ballot access. It is currently in court against Montana's March petition deadline for non-presidential independents. It is about the sue Rhode Island over a law that makes it illegal to circulate the full party petition during an odd year. It may sue Nebraska over that state's 2007 law that imposes a county distribution requirement on statewide non-presidential independent petitions, and also against the Nebraska 2007 law that makes it illegal for out-of-staters to petition in the state, and also makes it illegal to pay circulators on a per-signature basis. Finally, it is currently suing South Carolina over the law that says if a candidate is nominated by one party, but then tries and fails to get the nomination of a second party, then the nomination by the first party is void. In the particular case, the Green Party nominated someone for the legislature, and then later he also tried to get the Democratic nomination, but failed to get that. So then the state said he couldn't even be the Green nominee.

Also, Winger said that Oliver Hall will probably file a federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania in February 2009 over several of the worst ballot access characteristics of that state.

The meeting adjourned at 1:45 p.m.