Ballot Access Developments in 1994

Forward Steps Outweigh Slips

by Richard Winger

Effect of Term Limits Decision on Ballot Access Law

The most significant 1994 event relating to the struggle to improve ballot access laws was the oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court on congressional term limits. The Congressional term limits case was so important because the Court was being forced to settle key constitutional questions relating to ballot access. One question was whether the qualifications to be a member of Congress mentioned in the Constitution were exclusive or whether states or Congress could add to them.

Another question was to what extent the First Amendment protects a political party's right to nominate its candidate of choice. The Democratic Party of California filed an amicus brief arguing that term limits laws (with a write-in loophole) interfere with a party's right to choose its preferred nominee.

Until these questions are settled, Congress will not spend much time or energy on ballot access. Readers may be aware that a bill was introduced in Congress in 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1993 to outlaw restrictive ballot access laws for federal offices -- laws more restrictive than nearly all other democracies. Some members of Congress argued that the federal bill was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court decision will surely settle that question.

If the Supreme Court upholds state laws which keep long-time congressional incumbents off the ballot, but makes it clear that Congress can repeal them, then chances are fairly good that Congress will indeed repeal them. In that case, it may be possible to persuade Congress to include uniform ballot access laws, for Congress, in the same bill.

If the Supreme Court rules that the state laws which keep long-time congressional incumbents off the ballot are unconstitutional, on the grounds that states cannot add to the qualifications listed in the U.S. Constitution to hold congressional office, then it will be easier to attack certain other state ballot access laws in court, such as:

Federal courts have upheld both of these laws, but if the U.S. Supreme Court decides that states are powerless to add to the constitutional qualifications to hold congressional office, it will be possible to file new court challenges to these and similar laws.

If the Supreme Court rules that the state laws which keep long-term congressional incumbents off the ballot are unconstitutional on the grounds that they violate the First Amendment rights of political parties to decide for themselves whom they nominate, it will be easier to attack a different type of state ballot access in court. For example:

1994 Ballot Access Developments In State Legislatures

1994 was a fairly good year for winning ballot access improvements in state legislatures:

On the other hand, bills to improve ballot access were defeated in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Oklahoma.

1994 Ballot Access Developments in Court

There were some 1994 victories for easier ballot access in court:

Ballot access defeats occurred in court in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New York, North Carolina and Washington state.

The New York loss was particularly disappointing. A U.S. District Court had thrown out a New York law requiring all signatures on petitions to include the signer's precinct number and legislative district number -- since few people know their precinct number, the group circulating the petition must look up this information and add it for each signature, which takes thousands of work-hours.

The U.S. Court of Appeals said in November 1994 that it was affirming this decision and would explain later; but in December that Court changed its mind and reversed the lower court decision.

Administrative Rulings

State elections officials in Washington and Oklahoma ruled that a new or unqualified party can circulate a petition with a stand-in presidential candidate if the group has yet to choose its actual candidate. These rulings will help third parties if they do not wish to choose their presidential candidate until the summer of a presidential election year. Similar rulings are being sought in Kentucky and West Virginia, but there is no decision yet.

Richard Winger is the editor and publisher of Ballot Access News.

Go back to the Ballot Access News index.

Copyright (c) © Richard Winger 1995, 1999.
Compilation Copyright (c) © Bob Bickford 1999.
This document is part of the Ballot Access News web site, and is located at