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The GOP Can Improve Ballot Access (Without Helping those Pesty Libertarians)!

“Over the past decade [blogger’s note: about 1990-2000], roughly 35 percent of state legislative seats in the nation were uncontested in the general election.”  p. 1


“The democratic system operates with an implicit expectation that elections will offer voters a choice between or among candidates, and by extension, between or among policy positions.  Uncontested seats violate those expectations because they deprive voters of a choice.”  p. 2


“Thus, the American system of government needs people to run for office in order to give voters choices.”  p. 2

And a favorite of mine:

“Control of the Virginia House of Delegates was at stake in that [1997] election and both Republicans and Democrats had everything to gain from vigorously contesting each and every race.  Yet more often than not, they were unable to field a candidate.  One or the other major party failed to have a candidate on the ballot in sixty of the hundred races.”  p.109

I wanted to say:  Amen!  Preach it brother!

No I did not write those words.  I found them in this book that I purchased used at a Hanover library for fifty cents:

Who Runs For The Legislature, Gary F. Moncrief, Peverill Squire, Malcolm E. Jewell, Prentice Hall, 2001.

Might be the best fifty cents I ever spent!  It confirms that what we have in the Commonwealth is not unusual:  Too many uncontested races.  Obviously both parties are guilty of not making an emphasis on running more candidates.  There is a chart on page 9 that shows the uncontested races in Iowa from 1912 to 1998 and the recent stats from 1982 to 1998 show about 30-40% or so uncontested races for the state legislature in a bellwether purple swing state.

Now Sandy the political strategist wants uncontested races for folks he likes and contests for all those BAD GUYS.  But Sandy the civic reformer wants to see more contested races.

But why do people run for the legislature?  Idealism drives some.  Others do want to see a contest and feel it is good for the polity (I agree!) and thus ran.  Others were motivated by an issue of cluster of issues. Some were recruited by party or other political interest group leaders to run.  One of my favorites is:

“A Colorado candidate said that he was being offered up as a sacrificial lamb in a race against a strong GOP incumbent.  He recalled that during a local party meeting, ‘I opened my mouth and said somebody’s got to do it-basically I opened my mouth one too many times.’  The county chairman and house district chairman then leaned on him to become the candidate.”  p. 13


“A Washington state candidate, active in the party at the legislative district level, had tried to recruit someone else to make the race.  He unsuccessfully canvassed the teachers’ union, firefighters’ union, and retirees for a potential nominee.  When he could not convince anyone to run, he decided that he did not want the incumbent to be unopposed, and he tossed his own hat into the ring.”  p. 13

I admire both of these persons for their willingness (even though they were probably Democrats) to make the run for the right reasons and probably int he face of near certain defeat.

These three scholarly authors [p. 23-24] suggest there are three kinds of ambition:

  1. Discrete ambition is a desire to serve for a limited period of time in one office – say six or eight years – and then retire back to private life.
  2. Static ambition is the desire to serve for a long time in one office and maybe become a leader in that house or senate branch
  3. Progressive ambition is the desire to rise up through the system to say Congress or US Senate or Governor or even President.

I am most attracted to the discrete ambition (although I admit when I was much younger I had the progressive ambition to rise up in politics) in that I think you get in there and then do some things, raise the issues and get others to help you push them and pass a few and then retire from politics.

I will speak again and again to this book and I say:  Get your own copy – it sells for as little as one cent on Amazon – and see if I am right.  It is almost a manual on running for state legislature.

I propose to the GOP – the major party I am closest to – that they use the ballot access they have to go to people and tap them without signatures etc (between the time the signatures are due for a primary fight and the primary date) and get as many candidates to run as possible.  Get the office holders to donate to nearby hopefuls from their huge war chest (especially if they are unopposed) and thus force the Other Party to spend some of their war chest.  You can’t win if you don’t play.  Of course vet the candidates to ensure they will not embarrass the party.

I realize it can be difficult to get people to run if there is an uphill battle (the book says it, too!) but with some seed money and a bit of help on the side, it can be helpful and it is needed to fly the flag of limited government, constitutional liberty and careful/discreet use of taxpayer dollars.

We need better ballot access for third parties, too.  The book discusses third party candidates, too.  They tend to be those who decided on their own to run for office and were seldom recruited except by perhaps party leaders from that party.

We also need more contested races in local and county elections, too.  Better ability by third parties to get on the ballot could help.  But again the GOP could use that window of opportunity to get and recruit candidates for key offices.

If we are not going to get ballot access reform in Virginia, the Republican Party can lead the way:  Make it 100 for 100 in ’17!  One hundred candidates for the House of Delegates in 2017.  It can be done.  Be the Party that opens up politics!

Meanwhile, to my readers:  Buy that book and read it!



About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

4 Responses to “The GOP Can Improve Ballot Access (Without Helping those Pesty Libertarians)!”

  1. Daryl Carr says:

    Does the library have any more of these books available for 50 cents?


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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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