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 10:00 am on Saturday, June 16, in the law office of Harry Kresky in New York city. In attendance were:

1. Committee for a United Independent Party, Harry Kresky
2. Constitution Party, Gary Odom
3. Green Party, Phil Huckelberry
4. Libertarian Party, Richard Winger
5. Nader 2004 campaign, Mike Richardson
6. Reform Party, Tom McLaughlin
7. observing for Working Families Party, Alex Rabb
8. observing for Unity08, John Duffy

Minutes of last year's meeting were summarized. New officers were elected to one-year terms: Chair Tom McLaughlin, Vice-Chair Gary Odom, Secretary Phil Huckelberry, Treasurer Alice Kelsey.

The treasurer could not attend, but she had a few days earlier said that COFOE has approximately $2,000 in the bank.

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.

A report was presented on the lawsuits that COFOE has assisted financially. The Illinois decision (challenging the 10% petition for independent candidates for state legislature, and the petition deadline of December of the year before the election) and the Ohio decision (challenging the very early petition deadline for new parties) were both won in September 2006. The Illinois attorneys will return $1,255 to COFOE when they get their attorneys fees, and the Ohio attorney will return $1,000 to COFOE when he gets his attorneys fees.

Another case we helped financially did not prevail. We had contributed $2,000 for the Ohio Independent candidate petition deadline case, Lawrence v Blackwell, for the cert petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Court declined to hear the case.

We had earlier contributed $500 for the Pennsylvania minor party ballot access case, Rogers v Cortes, for the costs in the U.S. District Court. That case lost in U.S. District Court last year and it also lost in the 3rd circuit last year, with the request for a rehearing denied this year. The plaintiffs have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. A decision on whether the case will be accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court will be announced no earlier than October 1, 2007.

At this meeting, we voted to spend $750 on an amicus to be filed by the Center for Competitive Democracy, for printing costs. The amicus will be filed by Oliver Hall, PO Box 21090, Washington DC 20009. Hall founded the Center and hopes to do other ballot access litigation in the future. NOTE: after the meeting, Hall said the printing costs would only be $400, so Treasurer Alice Kelsey sent him $400. Afterwards, Hall said the printing costs turned out to be $700, so a supplemental check was sent to him for the additional $300, for a total of $700.

Phil Huckelberry asked if COFOE is either a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(4) organization. The response is that we are neither. 501(c)(3) organizations cannot lobby. Richard Winger mentioned that there is a 501(c)(3) organization, the Foundation for Free Campaigns & Elections, that was formed to fund ballot access lawsuits. Contributions to the Foundation are tax-deductible. The Foundation was formed by Richard Gardiner.

There was discussion about Oklahoma ballot access. Since both the federal courts and the state courts have upheld those laws, Oklahoma activists are planning to ask the voters to vote for an initiative that would ease them.

There was discussion of a bill in Congress to provide for public financing of congressional candidates. The bill sets an easier threshold for candidates who are members of the two major parties, than for all other candidates. Democrats and Republicans only need 2/3rds as many qualifying $5 contributions, as do other candidates. As a result of the discussion, the board passed this resolution: "COFOE opposes public financing that establishes different standards for qualifying based on party affiliation or lack thereof."

Michael Richardson gave a report on the efforts to give U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico a voice in presidential elections. The U.S. is in apparent violation of the OAS Charter on Democracy that was signed on September 11, 2001 in Lima, Peru. The OAS has granted a July 2007 hearing on the Puerto Rico matter, to Gregorio Igartua de la Rosa. Former Puerto Rico Governor Rossello has also filed a complaint with the OAS, but the OAS won't act on his complaint yet, since he hasn't exhausted all his remedies within the U.S., whereas Igartua has (he sued in federal courts in the U.S. and lost). In response to the discussion, the board pass this resolution: "COFOE supports the right to vote in presidential elections for all U.S. citizens registered to vote. Residency in a U.S. Territory should not deprive U.S. citizens of the right to vote for President and presidential electors." There was one abstention.

There was discussion of fusion, especially in presidential elections. It was mentioned that at least one individual, Michael Jingozian, is seeking the presidential nomination of both the Libertarian and Green Parties. The 1896 presidential election was discussed, which was the election when both the Democratic Party and the Peoples Party nominated William Jennings Bryan for president, although each party had its own vice-presidential candidate. COFOE then passed this resolution: "Resolved, political parties should be free to nominate any candidate for public office who meets the constitutional qualifications to hold that office.i

Phil Huckelberry described how the Illinois Green Party prepared for a challenge to its statewide petition in 2006. The Democratic Party did challenge the statewide petition, but the challenge was overcome. Greens submitted 39,330 signatures to meet a requirement of 25,000. In theory, the burden of proof that a signature is invalid lies on the objector. But in practice, the objector makes an allegation that a particular signature is invalid, and the party that submitted the petition must prove that the signature is valid. The state law does not give guidelines on how the challenge process works. The State Board of Elections always adopts new rules in any new election year, so there is no predictability. Challenged groups must hire an attorney.

Greens prepared by scanning the sheets and sending a PDF file to many volunteers. There were 4,100 petition sheets, and they were group into 10 sheet packages. Sixty volunteers each received a certain number of "packages" and then looked up the voters on the government registration list of voters. By this means, Greens knew in advance of the hearing that at least 27,000 signatures were valid. The Democratic challengers eventually gave up.

Discussion about presidential debates was held. Rockthedebates.org is trying to ask each major party presidential candidate to commit to participation in a general election presidential debate, in which all presidential candidates are invited if they are on the ballots in enough states to theoretically win the election. No presidential election in U.S. history has had more than 7 candidates on ballots in enough states to theoretically win a majority in the electoral college (that 7 includes the Democratic and Republican nominees). Therefore, claims by the Commission on Presidential Debates that more inclusive general election debates would be unworkable, are not true.

John Duffy gave a report on Unity08. He said fund raising is going very well, even though the FEC has told Unity08 that it may not accept contributions greater than $5,000. Unity08 is in court fighting that ruling. "National Committees" of FEC-recognized political parties can accept $27,500 from individuals. John said that work is proceeding on details of how an on-line presidential primary for Unity08 will work. Unity08 is also working on a voter education system on the internet, so that candidates who want the Unity08 presidential nomination can answer questions.

The meeting was adjourned at 1:00 pm. The date and place for the 2008 meeting will be decided later.