For the past seven months, I have had the privilege of being part of the Kevin King for Buncombe County Commissioner campaign. We put our hearts and souls into the campaign and worked tirelessly on a daily basis to achieve our goals. However, as the result of our unaffiliated candidacy, we faced hurdles that none of the other candidates faced and were forced to postpone the 2012 campaign. Unless you are running under one of the major party’s ticket, it is very difficult to get on the ballot.
In the state of North Carolina, voters can choose to register as an unaffiliated voter. Being an unaffiliated voter has one major advantage. When voting in a primary, an unaffiliated voter can choose which party’s ballot that they would like to vote for; this allows the voter to vote for the individual and not the party. The advantage to being an unaffiliated voter is not shared with the unaffiliated candidate.
For an unaffiliated candidate, getting on the ballot is the trick. In order to get on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate, the candidate must collect the signatures of 2% of the constituents that voted in the last election for Governor, in the district that they wish to run for. While 2% of registered voters might sound like a small percentage, this is no easy task. In the case of our candidacy for County Commissioner, the number of signatures required was approximately 2,200 signatures. Collecting those signatures brings its own set of hurdles. It is easier said than done to try and get someone to sign a petition for a process that they do not necessarily understand. Along with the signature, the signer must also print their name. They must give their street address, as well as their date of birth. In the age of identity theft, asking for information like this makes folks uncomfortable. In the event that you are able to collect the required number of signatures, are you sure that every single signature, or even a majority, meets the requirements? It is an extremely onerous task ensuring that each individual is not only registered to vote, but registered in your district. You must ensure that they used their proper address and actual birth-date. Needless to say, it is incredibly difficult to get on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.
Is our election process as free as we are led to believe? The two-party system stands to gain a lot by restricting access to only their parties. By creating a difficult process to get on the ballot, the two major parties have eliminated 1.6 million potential opponents. There are close to 1.6 million (and growing) registered unaffiliated voters in North Carolina. This is the fastest growing political party in North Carolina, why does it have the least access to the ballot? As we campaigned, the typical response of the general public was that of shock and amazement when we explained to them the task at hand for an unaffiliated candidacy. After acknowledging the added difficulties in the process for unaffiliated candidates, with the exception of the bitter partisans, we were met with much support for our cause. We must reform a system that places burdensome restrictions on some candidates, but not others.