By Bill Thompson and Kristina M. Schurr
ANNAPOLIS — Another effort to reform ballot access is headed for the Legislature during the upcoming session.
Representatives of minor parties applaud the effort, saying Maryland’s ballot access requirements are too restrictive and need changing.
“The question is do the people of Maryland think fair elections and democracy are important,” said Scott Becker, co- founder of Marylanders for Democracy, a group seeking fairer access laws.
“If the powers that be think the citizens of Maryland do want democracy and fair elections, then in order to achieve that they have to let different candidates and parties participate in elections and remove the legal barriers that prohibit them from doing so,” Becker added.
To get on the ballot now, candidates must collect signatures from 3 percent of the eligible registered voters in the district from which they are running. Critics say this requirement is the second toughest in the country, behind Florida, which requires 5 percent.
For instance, a candidate running for state senator representing Maryland’s 1st legislative district (Allegany and Garrett counties) would have to gather 1,610 signatures. To run for governor, meanwhile, one would need 77,639 signatures.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said he plans to reintroduce a bill to reform “prohibitive” ballot access requirements, which he described as so restrictive that they challenge “small `d’ democracy.”
“To get on the ballot, you have to make it through two hoops. Our bill would make it so that you have to get through just one,” Pinsky said.
Last session, a Pinsky-authored bill co-sponsored by Sens. Perry Sfikas, D-Baltimore, and Leonard Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery, passed the Senate by a 31-15 vote, but failed by 12 votes on the House floor.
Per Pinsky’s plan, a candidate would need to gather signatures from 1 percent of eligible registered voters — or 20,000 maximum, whichever is less.
Using the example above, the candidate for state senator from Maryland’s 1st District would need only 537 signatures, while making a bid for governor would require 20,000.
Democratic and Republican party leaders said they had no problem with increasing ballot access. However, they stipulated there should be some requirement just to maintain order on the ballot.
“The worst thing you want is a gadfly who hasn’t done the hartd work of putting a party together,” said Joyce Terhes, Maryland Republican party chairwoman.
Also, both said they would have to see any proposal and meet with their respective parties before commenting on it.
Reforming ballot access laws is one of many issues under consideration by the Commission to Revise the Election Code.
Following the controversial 1994 gubernatorial election between Parris Glendening and Ellen Sauerbrey, the governor and Legislature formed a nine-member, bipartisan commission to study state election laws. That commission will report its findings at the end of 1997. –30–