SPMI Files Ballot Access Legal Challenge and 2010 Candidate Nominations


For Immediate Release
Wednesday, July 28th 2010

Matt Erard, State Chair, Socialist Party of Michigan
(248) 765-1605

LANSING – The Socialist Party of Michigan (SPMI), MI state party affiliate of the Socialist Party USA, filed the State-prescribed candidate nomination and acceptance certificates for seven party candidates for federal and state office on Monday, following its official selection of such candidates at its 2010 state nominating convention held in Ann Arbor last Saturday.

Though decades have passed since the last time the Michigan Secretary of State’s office formally recognized the Socialist Party’s qualification to nominate candidates for any partisan elections in the state , the Party formally filed its nomination certificates with the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections office this year in order to concord with a lawsuit the Party filed in the state’s 30th Circuit Court (Ingham County) last Wednesday against Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, in her official capacity; challenging the constitutionality of the present Michigan statute governing political party ballot access (M.C.L. § 168.685) and seeking a court order requiring the Secretary of State’s office to once again provide a properly labeled party column on the Michigan ballot listing the Socialist Party’s nominees. The case, Socialist Party of Michigan, et al. v. Land (#10-867-CZ) is currently pending an August hearing before the court’s chief judge, Hon. William E. Collette.

Having last held Michigan ballot access in 1977, following its subsumptive merger with the then Michigan ballot-qualified “(Socialist) Human Rights Party, “the Party has continued to run candidates in recent general elections, while having to rely on qualifying its candidate slate each election year through various disparately labeled combinations of secondary candidate nominations from the Green or Natural Law parties, independent “no party affiliation” qualifying petitions, and certified write-in status. While prohibiting parties from qualifying at any local or regional level, Michigan is also among a minority of U.S. states which prohibit the candidates of any non-qualified party from listing their party label on the ballot, even when satisfying all the requirements to independently qualify their candidacies.

While challenging the present Michigan statute on multiple different constitutional grounds, the Socialist Party’s case draws particular attention to the Michigan Constitution’s “Purity of Elections” clause, which the Michigan Supreme Court found to prohibit the state from imposing a higher standard of voter support on “new” parties seeking to qualify for the ballot than returning parties seeking to automatically return to the ballot (Socialist Workers Party v. Secretary of State, 412 Mich. 571 [1982]). The Party notes that since the time of that case, the legislature has twice amended the law to both drastically raise the voter support threshold for “new” parties to qualify, and greatly decrease the comparative access burdens for returning parties.

Consequently, while the number of votes that a party’s principal (i.e. highest vote grossing) candidate must receive in order retain his/her party’s ballot access has remained relatively stable since the MI Supreme Court’s 1982 Socialist Workers Party ruling – having risen by no more than 14%, – the signature burden for a “new” party seeking to qualify has since risen by over 107%. Moreover although Michigan’s 1978 General Election was the state’s only general election held between the original 1954 enactment of the present state election code and the close of the 20th Century, in which no “new” parties successfully became qualified, not a single new party has thus far qualified for the Michigan ballot in any of the past four state general elections; a period over which the signature threshold has now further skyrocketed by another 25%.

In addition to the tremendously uneven voter support thresholds now in place for “new” and returning parties, the case additionally challenges the ambiguous and frequently signature-chilling wording that the present MI statute requires to be printed on each sheet of any “petition to form [a] new political party,” as well as the lack of narrow tailoring or rational relation of Michigan’s present party access restrictions to any compelling or legitimate state interest, under the criteria outlined in prior opinions from both the federal and state courts. Correspondingly, the Socialist Party’s case charges that the presently applied ballot access statute only truly functions to test the scale of a “new” party’s financial resources, with respect to whether or not it’s capable of raising and spending the many tens of thousands of dollars necessary to mount a successful petition drive within the statute’s 180 day time-window.

“By no means has the Socialist Party been alone highlighting the fact that Michigan’s present party access scheme measures nothing other than a ‘new’ party’s ability to make large scale financial expenditures,” said Socialist Party of Michigan Chair Matt Erard. “This is a point that has been officially affirmed and emphasized by every organizationally operative political party in the state, from across the political spectrum; except for the two thoroughly corporate-financed major parties, which correspondingly hold the exclusive power to legislatively formulate the state’s ballot access requirements for any “new” party that seeks to challenge them before the state electorate,” Erard said.

“The purely financial nature of the state’s presently formulated litmus test for party ballot access is further exemplified by the fact that the first and only party to hold the potential capability of breaking through Michigan’s decade-long freeze on successful new party petitioning campaigns, is a sham pseudo-party whose entire existence is owed to the mendacious bankrolling of one major party seeking to splinter off votes from the other,” Erard said in reference to the recently filed petitions to qualify a new “Tea Party” for the Michigan ballot, at the widely reported estimated expense of well over $100,000.

Further citing the fact that the Socialist Party of Michigan’s “principal candidates” have received between 3.5 and 4.5 times the number of votes required for subsequent party access in each of the past three state general elections, as well as a 2002 amendment to Michigan’s party ballot access statute, within which the state legislature removed the prior wording that had required that a party’s “principal candidate” must necessarily be listed in the party column of his/her principally associated party on the ballot, the Party’s court-filed complaint and summary disposition brief also provide an extensively grounded argument that the Socialist Party of Michigan has already satisfied the statute’s facial wording, even amidst the present statute’s constitutionally infirm level of discrimination and restriction. Accordingly, the Socialist Party is individually joined by Co-Plaintiff Dwain Reynolds in the suit, whose grounds for challenging the SPMI’s denial of ballot access stem from both his status as an SPMI-supporting voter and as Party’s “principal candidate” in the preceding general election of 2008.

Referencing both the federal district court’s restoration of the Socialist Party of Ohio’s ballot-access following the lawsuit it filed against the state of Ohio in 2008 after more than a half-century of Ohio ballot-exclusion, as well as the state of Wisconsin’s overwhelmingly more surmountable requirements for qualifying the Party’s candidates, Erard further contended that “Socialist voters in Michigan have every bit as much of a fundamental right to equal treatment and political expression at the ballot box as their politically aligned counterparts directly across our state’s boundary lines.”

“As the oldest among Michigan’s present-day minor parties, the Socialist Party stands equally as committed to providing Michigan voters with a socialist alternative in the 2010 general election, as it did in Michigan elections held more a century ago – an alternative that speaks more immediately to present conditions and discourse in our state today than at virtually any time in our state’s history,” Erard added.

Serving collectively as the Socialist Party of Michigan’s nominated and certified 2010 electoral slate are the candidacies of Dwain Reynolds III of Middleville for the State Bd. of Education; Diana Demers of Westland for University of Michigan Bd. of Regents; Michael Crawford of Flint for Michigan State University Bd. Of Trustees; James Arnoldi of Willis for Wayne State University Bd. of Governors; John Longhurst of Alpena for 1st district Representative in Congress; Matt Erard of Detroit for 13th district Representative in Congress; and Michael Treacy of Marquette for 109th district State Representative.

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