Sunday, May 9, 2010

Interview with Free and Equal Elections Foundation

Jumping in Pools is proud to present interview number 86 in our ongoing series. This time we're interviewing the Free and Equal Elections Foundation, which stands for election reform and efforts to increase ballot access. I was fortunate enough to interview Chris, the site's Chief Information Officer.

1. When and why was Free and Equal started?
The real genius behind Free & Equal is Christina Tobin, Founder and Chair.  She has a long history fighting for the right of citizens to run for office.  Growing up in Chicago gave her ample opportunity to experience the unfairness and corruption of the system first-hand.  After serving as Ralph Nader's national ballot access coordinator in 2008, with the Democrats trying every dirty trick in the book to keep Nader off the ballot, she decided an organization was needed which could focus exclusively on access to the ballot.  Free & Equal launched in March of the following year.  Our primary goal has always been, and remains, the reform of ballot access laws in order to empower citizens and increase participation in the political process.

2. What is one federal law/statute that limits electoral freedom that you most want changed?
In our republic, it is the states primarily which regulate the ballot, and this demands our focus.  The states also control redistricting and choose the voting machines.  On the federal level, there isn't much we could or would advocate for.  Reasonable arguments can be found, both pro and con, for most federal election legislation.

In New York, the single best election law reform would be to reduce signature requirements for ballot access.  Bills to halve signature requirements, for both designating (primary) and nominating (general election) petitions, have been introduced regularly in both houses of the state legislature.  However, the leadership has refused to bring them to the floor for a vote.

New York has shown leadership in the field of election law.  New York's decision to reject the "black box" approach, and adopt open source voting machine software, is a model for the nation.  If we place sound public policy before personal interest, we can continue on the path of leadership with ballot access reform.

3. Free and Equal is listed as non-partisan. However, does the site sometimes come down on the side of libertarians?
We sometimes come down on the side of every political party, including Democrats and Republicans.  Free & Equal is largely focused on allowing independent and third party candidates to compete on an even playing field.  Along the way, we've also encouraged grassroots Democratic and Republican candidates, and defended them from petition challenges.  Internally, Christina hails from the Nader camp, while our Media Director Micah Gamino is a Green Party activist.  I'm a progressive libertarian; when I ran for office last year I was endorsed by both the Green and Libertarian parties.  Free & Equal has helped candidates from the Constitution, Green, Libertarian, Socialist Equality, Democratic and Republican parties get on the ballot.  We're all about coming together across party lines.  We feel elections should be about the person, not the party.

4. What is the best part of running the site?
The best part is providing a voice for what's good and positive in our political system.  There is an emerging national consensus that our political system is failing the American people.  Yet our political discourse focuses disproportionately on the status quo, rather than grassroots alternatives or efforts at reform.  The powerful have their media organs, but the people need a voice as well.

5. If you had one goal for the next five years, what would it be?
The single most positive change would be the inclusion of all Presidential candidates in national debates, who qualified on enough state ballots to win 270 electoral votes.  In 2008 there were five such candidates.  There were more candidates in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, and all of them could be included in debates.  So why not the general election debates?  Rather than move the bar out of reach, as was done after Perot entered the debates in 1992, we should adopt a rational standard.  Whoever can win (270 electoral votes) should be allowed to participate.  This would raise national consciousness of third party and independent candidates.

6. Anything else you'd like to add?
Across the political spectrum, Americans realize the integrity of our system matters more than partisan interests.  We look forward to a future where our political discourse is dominated by the free and energetic exchange of ideas, rather than power brokers and special interests.  Free & Equal believes that day will come.  With your help, that day could be right around the corner.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The single most positive change would be the inclusion of all Presidential candidates in national debates, who qualified on enough state ballots to win 270 electoral votes."

Bad idea. Three reasons:

1. It further entrenches the power of Big Money over our election process. One would have to qualify in a dozen big states, or many more small states. This would take gobs of cash. Only the corporate fat cats can contribute this kind of dough. The debates would never have people of the people in them.

2. It would do nothing to change our insane primary system. The two tiny states of New Hampshire and Iowa would be major centers of spending by hopefuls, so that they could build the momentum they would need to qualify in other states. That's not democratic. Those states don't represent the nation. They don't merit such prominence. Yet this "reform" would increase the importance of those two states.

3. The idea is self-contradictory. It’s supposed to open up the process. But only a few more, at most, would have the backing to eventually qualify. As I said in my interview on this blog here,* in 2008 there were 533 folks who qualified by FCC standards. We should have a process that really opens up our presidential election system, so that all of these hopefuls have a fighting chance, not just the ones with connections to the superrich.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.