After a month-long delay since passage in the Senate, the petition reform package finally moved through House State Affairs Friday. Senate Bills 67, 68, and 69 all passed, with some important amendments.
Senate Bill 67 establishes a deadline by which court challenges to nominating petitions must be filed. The original bill proposed by Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and the Board of Elections called for such challenges to be filed by the second Tuesday of March. House State Affairs amended that deadline to the third Tuesday in March.
So are citizens getting more time to prepare their challenges? No. But candidates are getting back a week to circulate petitions that the original petition reform package would have taken away. Senate Bill 69 moves up the deadline for submitting nominating petitions to accommodate the new petition review that Senate Bill 68 will require of the Secretary of State. SB 69 originally proposed moving the petition circulation period up one month, starting December 1 and ending the last Tuesday of February. That circulation period, unlike the current January 1–last Tuesday in March, falls over the holidays, effectively reducing the tasteful time during which candidates can circulate petitions (because who wants circulators competing with the Salvation Army bell ringers on the sidewalks?). While leaving the the start date at December 1, House State Affairs amended the filing deadline to the first Tuesday in March.
In addition to making it harder to run for office by making the filing deadline even earlier, Senate Bill 69 has been slathered with amendments to make it harder for everyone, especially Independents, third parties, and new parties, to fill slots on the ballot:
- Candidates must now obtain signatures from one percent of voters registered in their political party at the last general election, rather than the current standard of one percent of the gubernatorial vote. In most cases, that means candidates will need to get more signatures.
- The number of signatures Independents must collect goes down from one percent of the last combined gubernatorial vote to one percent of the nonaffiliated and “other” registered voters at the last general election; however, Independents can no longer get the signatures of voters registered with a party, making it harder for Indies to find eligible signers.
- Candidates may no longer withdraw at will and allow their party central committees to name replacements before the traditional August deadline. SB 69 limits such replacements to illness and other restrictive situations. (On the good side, the Senate at least had the decency to remove Sen. Corey Brown’s odious provision requiring that the withdrawing candidate explain the nature of her illness to the Secretary of State.)
Senate Bills 67, 68, and 69 make minor advances in petition review and accountability, the original intent of this reform package, at the expense of making it harder for all parties to put forth candidates for public office. The House and likely the Governor will now have to decide whether the small benefits outweigh the remarkable new barriers to participation in our democratic process.