New Mexico is the only state in the nation without an independent or third-party candidate in any statewide race—or for the U.S. House.
"There's no state with a worse record this year," says Richard Winger, who edits Ballot Access News, a national publication based in San Francisco. He writes about independent candidates and third parties, and he keeps track of developing laws state by state.
Since the mid-1960s—his entire adult life—Winger's been following the struggles of non-Dems and non-GOPers trying to get on the ballot. "Most states improved in the last years," he says. But he's watched the Land of Enchantment move backward. New Mexico is also the only state in the union that requires the nominees of a qualified party to submit signatures to get on the ballot.
Green Party member Alan Woodruff says he showed up at the Secretary of State's Office with about 4,500 signatures on the day they were due in June, and that they were rejected. But Don Francisco Trujillo, the deputy secretary of state, says "Alan Woodruff never showed up with any signatures." Instead, according to Trujillo, Woodruff brought only a letter saying he was the Green Party's candidate in the race for Congress between Rep. Martin Heinrich and Jon Barela. For this story, Woodruff brought the signatures—on 400 pages—to the Alibi offices on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
There's another point of contention. The Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t consider the Green Party a party—much to the Greens’ surprise.
In New Mexico, there are major parties and minor parties. Major parties are automatically included on the ballot. In addition to needing signatures for candidates, a minor party has to gather signatures to get itself on the ballot.
A party is in the major leagues when one of its candidates receives at least 5 percent of the total votes. This has to happen during an election cycle that includes races for president or governor. Rick Lass ran as a Green for a Public Regulation Commission seat in 2008. He managed 77,006 votes, which was well more than 5 percent of all the votes cast in the state that year. The Green Party also met membership requirements. But it didn't pull in one-half of 1 percent in New Mexico for presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. "They meet the two harder requirements," says Winger. "It's crazy that they don't meet the easy one."
Would-be Congressional candidate Woodruff points out that the Greens became a major party and simultaneously got kicked off the ballot as a result of the 2008 election.
New Mexico Green Party co-chair Michal Mudd says the Lass votes should be enough, and Secretary of State Mary Herrera is misinterpreting the law. "By our accounts, and the way we see it, we still are a party. If we're a major party, we shouldn't have to re-qualify. The Democrats and Republicans don't have to do this."
"They meet the two harder requirements. It's crazy that they don't meet the easy one."
Richard Winger, Ballot Access News
Winger of Ballot Access News informed New Mexico's Greens in April 2009 that they had lost their their status, not only as a major party, but as a party altogether.
Winger says he had been badgering the Secretary of State's Office for several weeks to find out which parties were ballot-qualified. "Only New Mexico makes it a mystery," he says.
"We received no letter," says Green Party co-chair Mudd. "Our official mailbox was never delivered any kind of a notice saying we were stripped of this status." According to New Mexico's election code, the secretary of state is required to alert the chairperson of the party by mail, then alert the county clerks. The clerks are to "immediately notify by mail all voters registered as members of such party." Mudd says that didn't happen either. "We thought, If they're not following the law, they haven't done this, then we're still a party."
"They need to do what they need to do to educate themselves. Anyone who wishes to be a party or remain a party, it's their responsibility to know the laws."
Deputy Secretary of State Don Francisco Trujillo
But Deputy Secretary of State Trujillo says it's a candidate's responsibility to know the election code. "They need to do what they need to do to educate themselves." Further, he adds, "anyone who wishes to be a party or remain a party, it's their responsibility to know the laws."
Woodruff wanted to run for Congress in earnest. "I was in it for serious. Whether I would have had a shot this time—some people would say no. I say yes. The political climate is right. People want choices. People want someone rational. They're tired of the extremes of the Republicans and Democrats." Even if he didn't win, he says, he would have been building visibility for himself and the party, which would set up the next election cycle.
He's been a member of the Green Party on and off for 20 years, he says. He decided to run in 2008 after becoming frustrated with the campaign rhetoric coming from the two-party system. "And all the politicians were doing what all politicians do and running on sound bites they had no understanding of. I had gotten seriously upset about this," he says. He describes himself as a pragmatic social liberal and a fiscal conservative.
Not being on the ballot has long-reaching effects for the Green Party, Mudd says. "When you're listed on the ballot, we can more easily recruit candidates." Without a horse in the race, membership numbers dwindle. Plus, the number of registered Greens has dipped in the last few years: In 2003, there were about 11,500 in New Mexico. In June 2010, there were 5,271. "We can't get our candidates on the ballot because of the electoral laws being so restrictive and so unfairly applied. A lot of people are losing hope," Mudd says.
"We can't get our candidates on the ballot because of the electoral laws being so restrictive and so unfairly applied. A lot of people are losing hope."
Michal Mudd, co-chair of the Green Party of New Mexico
New Mexico election code is screwed up, Woodruff says. "It's one of the most difficult states in the country for a minor party candidate." So, along with the Green Party, he's suing the state to hold provisions of the election law unconstitutional. The lawsuit's been in the works for about a year and a half, and it’s in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court. Woodruff says the Libertarians, the Reform Party and La Raza Unida have signed on for the legal battle, too.
Winger says states that traditionally go blue make it hard for third-party candidates to get on the ballot. Tensions rose in New Mexico in 1995. The Democratic Legislature created a shorter window for collecting party signatures and increased the number of signatures candidates had to get. Winger says Democrats were upset because Green Party candidate Roberto Mondragón took more than 10 percent of the vote in the governor's race, and Republican Gary Johnson was elected. In 1997, the Legislature also tried to pass a law banning write-ins, which Johnson vetoed.
The state doesn't require candidates for president to ask for signatures, which is why the state has more third-party options in that race. "It's not quite so bad in New Mexico for president as it is for all other offices.”
The laws are bad here, Winger says. "If you're minor party, you have to go out and get thousands signatures in a short amount of time. Then each candidate has to go out and do it. Pretty soon you're asking people to sign their name and address 20 times. New Mexico is the only state in the country that says a qualified party has to have their nominees go out and do that."
"The Libertarian view is such that we just want to be able to live our lives without interference from others or government. So a lot of us are not interested in running in politics.”
Jay Vandersloot, chairperson of New Mexico’s Libertarians
In Utah, 2,000 signatures are required to qualify a party. Then the party can nominate candidates to be on the ballot to its heart's content. In Colorado, with 1,000 registered members, a party can start nominating by convention. "The Greens could easily run as many as they want to up there," Winger says.
Though New Mexico has no third-party candidates in statewide or national races this year, the Libertarians do have two for state Legislature seats, which represent small districts. The Libertarians filed the necessary signatures to get their party on the ballot and then collected more for their candidates.
Mike Blessing is running as a write-in in District 16 against Democratic Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas. Mark Curtis is running in District 19 on the ballot against Republican Anthony Romo and Democratic incumbent Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton. The Libertarian Party is a minor party in New Mexico with 2,249 members as of March 2010.
The state’s Libertarian chairperson, Jay Vandersloot, says the point is not to disrupt election results. "Some people say the Libertarian Party draws votes from Republicans, and some say it pulls from Democrats. Libertarians are fiscally conservative and ideologically liberal. Our purpose is not to draw votes from another party." Instead, he says, they're in the race to win. They also want to promote an ideology that upholds the Constitution, and values liberty and freedom. "Candidates have been swayed by other candidates."
But it's hard for the party to find contenders. "The Libertarian view is such that we just want to be able to live our lives without interference from others or government," Vandersloot says. "So a lot of us are not interested in running in politics. Those that do run feel strongly enough that they need to get in there—not to be a career politician—but to get in there and make a change for the better."
“The voters are not happy with who the Democrats and Republicans are putting out there.”
Alan Woodruff, would-be Green Party congressional candidate
The Green Party's Woodruff says he’ll be on the ballot, and so will the Greens, in 2012. He says every state needs more options. "The voters are not happy with who the Democrats and Republicans are putting out there. But those are their own choices. People won't vote for the minor party because they think it's a wasted vote."
Aside from the United States, Russia and Iran, Winger says he's never heard of another country that keeps qualified people with support off the ballot. "Canada and Great Britain have easy ballot access. There's no problems with voter turnout."
It's only in the last hundred years or so that politics became so polarized in the United States, Mudd says. "The bottom line is that the Democrats and the Republicans think that they own everyone's vote.”
She says America has a football-game approach to politics: You're either on one team or the other. "It seems that those two teams have the same methods, slightly different wording, but the end result is the same. I think a number of fresh, bold ideas are not being considered, addressed or implemented,” she says, “because we're stuck with this very narrow approach to our political system.”