Leader Blues

Friday, August 25, 2006

EDITORIALS>>More choices for voters

Jim Lendall, the copiously bearded former state representative, is not going to be the next governor of Arkansas, and he doesn’t expect to be. But tens of thousands of people who share his tolerant and compassionate view of his fellow human beings deserve the chance to at least consider voting for him, whether from real conviction or the need to protest the cautious stands of the major party candidates. Not many voters will actually do it, we suspect, but they will now have the option.

Federal District Judge George E. Howard Jr. reaffirmed this week what he had essentially ruled years ago, that a state law that requires an extraordinary petition campaign to get minor-party candidates on the Arkansas ballot is unconstitutional because it interferes with the First Amendment right to free association.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas brought the suit to get Green Party candidates on the ballot. The ruling will apply to any political party from the right to the left. The ACLU would have sued to get right-wing parties and candidates ballot access, too, as it has done elsewhere.

Rod Bryan, a young kitchen worker at a Little Rock restaurant, got on the ballot as an independent candidate by filing petitions with the names of 10,000 registered voters, but the Green Party’s 18,000-plus signatures were 6,000 names short of meeting the higher test demanded for third parties. That was manifestly unfair and it came as no surprise that the judge found it so. He had ruled the same way in 1996 and 2001, but the Arkansas legislature has never changed the law to comply with the Constitution. There is no guarantee that the legislature will do it next year either, but it should.

All legislators are from the Republican and Demo-cratic parties and it is in their general interest not to open avenues for more election competition. This year, the two “minor” candidates for governor, if we may describe them so pejoratively, will detract from Attorney General Mike Beebe, the Democratic candidate, because they are tolerant and progressive. Liberals who are irked at Beebe’s cramped positions on social issues can cast what they may consider a principled vote for Lendall or Bryan. Republicans were genuine when they praised Judge Howard’s decision this week. It helps them. But four years from now, one or two of the right-wing splinter parties may want to get on the ballot, and it will be the Republicans’ turn to worry about the purists voting their conscience rather than the pragmatic.

No matter how disenchanted they are with Beebe and other Democrats, not many Democrats in the end will vote for either Bryan or Lendall because they remember 2000 and 2004, when Ralph Nader, an independent and Green Party candidate for president, sucked away enough conscience-stricken liberal Democratic voters to hand the presidency to George W. Bush, twice.

Regretful voters gave Nader far fewer votes the second time, but they were still enough in several states to give the presidency to Bush.

But practical politics is a consideration for voters, not the law. The law owes no favors for the major parties or the two-party system. Independents and rigid Repub-licans and Democrats alike can celebrate the small victory for democratic ideals that Judge Howard handed them.