I have nothing against independent candidates. To me, they’re like any other candidate, except with fewer reasons to vote for them.
But this year, I have, for the first time, felt a slight twinge of sympathy for independents. Or it could be gas from that Impossible Burger.
Non-party candidates for the U.S. Senate must collect 4,000 signatures from registered Maine voters by July 1 to qualify for the November ballot. That’s twice as many names as party hopefuls in about double the time. Even so, under normal circumstances, that’s difficult.
The average person needs to be convinced the candidate requesting their signature isn’t some weirdo with bizarre ideas, a complete lack of qualifications, and offspring doing shady business deals with China. We already have Republicans and Democrats for that stuff.
But these are not normal circumstances. Political hopefuls can’t simply accost passersby on the street. Large gatherings are banned. Door-to-door canvassing is forbidden. There’s no way to obtain the necessary names.
Even if there were, petitions must be notarized in the presence of the person who collected them. Not many notaries are willing to handle sheets of paper possibly contaminated with coronavirus cooties.
The net result is you’re almost certainly not going to have a chance this fall not to vote for the likes of Tiffany Bond, a Portland lawyer; Leigh Hawes, a truck driver from Skowhegan; or Linda Wooten, a Republican-turned-independent from Auburn. Their outsider Senate candidacies appear doomed by the pandemic.
To be fair, their candidacies were doomed long before anybody ever heard of Wuhan.
Bond ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2018, amassing a microscopic number of votes. Her ballot appeal in a statewide race is also unlikely to be visible to the naked eye. Hawes, a one-time write-in candidate for Congress, has no organization, no money, and no name recognition, so yeah. Wooten wants to offer a right-wing alternative to incumbent GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, which plays well with fringy types hoarding guns and toilet paper.
The only independents who might make the ballot are Lisa Savage and Max Linn.
Savage started running as a Green Independent until discovering there aren’t enough members of that party who know how to sign their names. So, she switched to become a lower-case independent and collected sufficient signatures before the state shut down. Linn also apparently got his names early, but that might not mean he’s on the ballot. Two years ago, the sometimes Trump Republican, sometimes Obama Democrat and consistent kook didn’t make it because of disqualified signatures.
Bond and her ilk don’t think the system is fair. They want the state to change the rules to accommodate those inconvenienced by social distancing.
“We shouldn’t be excluding people from democracy because they are not in a (political) party,” Bond told Pine Tree Watch. “They should just say you need half as many signatures and here’s how to get them notarized.”
In March, Vermont passed emergency legislation waiving many requirements to get on the ballot; Connecticut may follow suit through an executive order. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in April that candidates could qualify for the primary ballot with half the usual signatures. A few states now allow electronic signature gathering. Minor parties have gone to court in Illinois to demand easier ballot access.
All this amounts to creating a bad precedent. If Maine decided to ease the rules because of the current crisis, what happens if future campaigns are disrupted by a flood, a blizzard, or an invasion of giant radioactive lobster people. Once we start carving out exceptions, it’s tough to stop. It’s only a matter of time before candidates qualify for the ballot because their feet hurt, their kid had soccer practice or the dog ate their petitions.
Independent candidates are a vital part of our electoral system – if by vital you mean that an important one comes along about once a decade. That’s enough to prove the current system is fair – sorta – but not so fair as to plague voters with an epidemic of woozy-headed options.
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