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 27, 2011
New York, NY
1. Harry Kresky, Committee for a Unified Independent Party
2. Alice Kelsey, Socialist Party
3. Elliot Traiman, Socialist Party
4. Mike DeRosa, Green Party
5. Richard Winger, Libertarian Party
6. Reform Party, Tom McLaughlin
7. Larry Moskowitz, Working Families Party
8. Christina Tobin, Free and Equal
9. Chris Edes, Free and Equal
10. Bradley Maurer, Conservative Party (observer)
11. Don Rosenberg, Conservative Party (observer)
12. Casey Bowman, Free and Equal
Officers elected to one-year terms are: Chair Tom McLaughlin, Vice-Chair Harry Kresky, Secretary Phil Huckelberry, Treasurer Alice Kelsey.
Before officers were elected, participants at the meeting were each given a chance to speak about whatever was uppermost in that person's mind. Mike DeRosa reported on the lawsuit Green Party of Connecticut v Lenge, which is before the U.S. Supreme Court. That Court had scheduled a conference on March 25 to decide whether to hear the case, which challenges Connecticut's discriminatory public funding law. The Court never releases the results of its conference until the following Monday, which was to be March 28. Therefore, at the time of the COFOE meeting, no one knew what would happen. As it turned out, on March 28, the Court revealed that it had not made a decision as to whether to hear the case, and probably will not do so until it has released its opinion in the Arizona public funding case. That may not be until May or June.
Larry Moskowitz talked about the Working Families Party's struggle to prevent Delaware from outlawing fusion. House Bill 11 had already passed the House and seemed very likely to pass the Senate. The bill makes it illegal for a party to nominate a non-member. The U.S. Supreme Court said in Tashjian v Republican Party of Connecticut in 1986 that it would violate the First Amendment's freedom of association clause to tell a political party that it may not nominate a non-member. The Delaware legislature does not seem to know this. Larry explained that the Working Families Party did not believe that activists in Delaware should educate the legislature, because if anyone does so, the legislature will re-write the law to make it less vulnerable to challenge. It would be easy for the Delaware legislature to ban fusion without telling parties they can't nominate a non-member. Larry said that he had finally persuaded activists from other minor parties in Delaware not to educate the Delaware legislature. Since then, by coincidence, a U.S. District Court in New Mexico struck down New Mexico's law that forbids parties from nominating non-members. As of the date these minutes are being written, the Delaware bill has passed a Senate Committee but has not otherwise advanced.
Christina Tobin described Free & Equal's recent activism, especially that the organization was able to persuade an Illinois state legislator to introduce a bill, HB 2854, which eliminates mandatory petitioning for all candidates, if they pay a filing fee of 1% of the annual salary of the office that person is running for.
Richard Winger gave a brief history of COFOE's activity in providing funds for ballot access lawsuits. COFOE generally does this for lawsuits filed by independent candidates that challenge ballot access laws that make it difficult for independents to get on the ballot.
Harry Kresky described the two recent lawsuits in U.S. District Courts in Idaho and South Carolina over whether parties have a constitutional right to close their primaries. IndependentVoting, which is an alternate name for the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, was permitted to intervene in both lawsuits. The Republican Party had filed both lawsuits, seeking permission to close its primaries. The Republican Party succeeded in Idaho but failed in South Carolina. Harry also described his organization's campaign to persuade Congress to hold hearings on laws that discriminate against independent voters. Finally, he mentioned the pending lawsuit in New York that seeks to stop the State Board of Elections from discriminating in favor of the two major parties, when they count the votes of voters who have voted twice for one particular candidate (with one vote going to the major party line and one vote going to the minor party line). There is no decision yet. The policy of the State Board of Elections is to credit the major party with that vote, and not credit the minor party. A more just policy would provide that the voting machines sound an alert when a voter casts two votes in one race, and then the voter would be asked to re-vote, this time taking care to cast only one vote in any particular race.
Tom McLaughlin gave a report on the lobbying effort in Pennsylvania in favor of a bill to greatly improve ballot access. The lobbying effort is being carried out by a non-partisan group called Pennsylvania Ballot Access. The bill, SB 21, would lower the number of signatures for independent candidates, and eliminate petitioning for minor parties that nominate by convention and have registration of several thousand registered members.
Alice Kelsey gave a report on recent conventions of the Socialist Party.
Then, the business part of the meeting began. Copies of the Bylaws were handed out to each participant. The Bylaws provide for annual dues of $50 for each organization that seeks to be represented on the COFOE board. Invoices were distributed. The Board currently has 8 organizations that qualify for Board membership: Free & Equal, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, and these political parties: Constitution, Green, Libertarian, Reform, Socialist, and Working Families.
The Treasurers Report says COFOE has approximately $2,000.
The group voted to appropriate $500 for Gautam Dutta, the attorney who is challenging two aspects of California's top-two law. His lawsuits are Field v Bowen, in state court; and Chamness, in federal court. Both challenge the implementing legislation that sets up the top-two system. Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the law on ballot labels, and the law that says write-ins can never be counted in congressional and state office elections in November. The ballot labels law says that members of qualified parties may choose whether to have their party of registration on the ballot or not. But, members of unqualified parties can only have the label “no party preference”. No one may have the label “independent” and no one can have the name of an unqualified party listed on the ballot.
The Board voted to amend the Bylaws to provide for two vice-chairs. However, one vice-chair went unfilled. There was discussion of the top-two system, which CUIP/Independent Voting supports, but which has no other supporters on the COFOE board. The meeting was adjourned at 2:30 p.m.