Full and fair access to the electoral process is a right central to democracy
Coalition for Free and Open Elections
MINUTES, COFOE MEETING OF MARCH 2, 2008
The meeting was held at 1 pm on Sunday, March 2, 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 2008 campaign, Mike Richardson
6. Reform Party, Tom McLaughlin
7. Green Party, Rebecca White
The Working Families Party and Socialist Party were unable to send representatives because of schedule conflicts.
Minutes of last year's meeting were summarized. All officers were re-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 $4,000 in the bank. We have more money than expected because: (1) Gary Sinawski repaid us what we paid him for the Ohio Libertarian case; (2) Oliver Hall did not charge us for his work in filing the cert petition in Swanson v Alabama, since it was his mistake that he filed the cert petition one day too late (he returned our check for $700). This accident happened because we had previously asked the Court for more time, and the Court had granted us another 59 days, and Oliver assumed we had been given 60 more days. Also, since the last annual meeting, we had also been reimbursed for our $1,255 in the Illinois case, Lee v Keith, which was won in the 7th circuit in 2006.
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.
We had earlier contributed to the Pennsylvania minor party ballot access case, Rogers v Cortes. That case lost in 2006, and in 2007 the US Supreme Court refused to hear it. We had contributed to the cost of printing the cert petition to the US Supreme Court during 2007.
We heard a report about Puerto Rico voting rights, from Michael Richardson. Senator McCain has come out in favor of a new plebiscite for Puerto Rico to decide if it wants to be a state, or independent, or maintain the status quo. The Governor's complaint to the Organization of American States seems to be moving very slowly. Voting rights activist Igartua de la Rosa filed a new federal lawsuit in February 2008.
We discussed primary systems, especially open primaries, blanket primaries, and top-two primaries. The nation is waiting for the US Supreme Court to issue its Washington state decision in that "top-two" primary case.
We discussed problems the Illinois Green Party had with its primary in February 2008. The lawsuit Eu v San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee was mentioned. This unanimous US Supreme Court decision from 1989 gives parties the right to decide for themselves how to be organized. It was from California, and could be useful in Illinois in the near future.
We discussed problems getting the proposed North Carolina independent candidate lawsuit filed. COFOE sent $250 to Kris Williams, an attorney in North Carolina, to sue against the state's 4% petition requirement for independent candidates for US House. No independent has ever qualified for the N.C. ballot for that office, in history. Since the 4% is calculated on current registration data, when registration is highest, some of the districts require 20,000 valid signatures. No petitioning candidate for US House in the history of the United States, in any state, has ever overcome a requirement greater than 13,000 signatures. Kris still has not filed the case, eleven months later. Richard Winger sent him a personal check for $350 in October 2007, and that doesn't seem to have done any good either. We sat and wrote a proposed letter to Kris Williams, and all Board members signed the letter, and Tom McLaughlin postally mailed it on March 11.
We also approved an appropriation of $1,000 to Mark Miller to take over the proposed North Carolina case. Mark Miller is an attorney in Maryland who won the lawsuit against the Maryland dual-petitioning scheme in 2003. Mark will try to communicate with Kris Williams and either offer to take over the case, or to help him, or to learn that Kris can do it himself. Kris Williams has not been returning phone calls to Richard Winger. The proposed plaintiff, Bryan Greene, also has not been able to reach Kris Williams. Bryan Greene prefers to let his son handle these problems. The son is Jordan M. Greene.
We approved an appropriation for $350 for the Bernhoft law firm of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a proposed Alabama lawsuit. The Bernhoft law firm wants to do ballot access cases, and last year chose this one. It would challenge the requirement that independent candidates for US House need more signatures than independent presidential candidates. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1979 in Illinois State Bd of Elections v Socialist Workers Party that it is unconstitutional for a state to require more signatures for a district office than for a statewide office. $350 will cover the filing fee. The Bernhoft law firm says it doesn't need any other money, at least at this time. The proposed plaintiff is Andy Shugart. He is not willing to petition but under 3 US Supreme Court ballot access precedents, candidate-plaintiffs need not petition in order to have standing. He needs 6,660 valid signatures to run for US House in his district, yet Alabama only requires 5,000 for presidential independent candidates. The Bernhoft law firm is at 207 E. Buffalo St., #600, Milwaukee Wi 53202, (414) 276-3333. The particular attorney in that firm who says he will do the case is Brian Mahany.
We resolved to write a letter of sorrow to the Brennan Center, for defending the Connecticut public funding scheme in court in a challenge brought by the Green & Libertarian Parties of Connecticut. The ACLU is handling this case.
Other ballot access lawsuits that do not need help from COFOE are being filed. In January the Tennessee Constitution, Green & Libertarian Parties sued Tennessee over its party qualifying procedures, which have not been used since 1968. In early March, the Socialist Party presidential candidate, Brian Moore, sued Ohio over its law that only registered Ohio voters may circulate for an independent candidate (even though any adult may circulate for a new party). Law Professor Mark Miller is doing this case.
It is very likely that the national ACLU voting rights office will soon sue Montana over a 2007 law that moved the independent petition deadline (for office other than president) from June to March.
The New Hampshire Libertarian Party expects to sue New Hampshire soon, over that state's refusal to allow for stand-in presidential candidates. The South Dakota Libertarian Party is thinking about suing the state over the late March petition deadline for new parties. The Illinois Libertarian Party is thinking of suing Illinois over the number of signatures needed for US House candidates. Since the state only requires 5,000 signatures in years after redistricting (1992, 2002, 2012, etc). it seems the state has no good reason to require approximately 13,000 in other election years (5% of the last vote cast). The Pennsylvania Constitution, Green and Libertarian Parties are about to sue Pennsylvania over that state's habit of charging petitioning groups for the costs of determining that their petitions are invalid. The lawsuit will probably also challenge the wording on the petition which says that the signers are "nominating" the listed candidates, and also the habit of certain Pennsylvania counties to fail to count valid write-in votes.
We talked about a possible challenge to the January petition deadline for independent candidates (for office other than president) in Mississippi, but that seems unlikely to win, since in 1996 the 5th circuit upheld a Texas law that requires non-presidential independent candidates to file a declaration of candidacy in January.
The meeting was adjourned at 4:00 pm. The date and place for the 2009 meeting will be decided later.