HB 2608 good for GOP, Dems; not so good for other parties

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers -- all of whom are Republicans and Democrats -- are moving to make it harder for the candidates from other political parties to run for office.

On the surface, HB 2608 changes the computation used to determine how many signatures are needed to get nominated.

Right now it is one-half of one percent of eligible voters; this changes it to one-fourth of a percent.

But the hidden detail in the measure given preliminary Senate approval on Tuesday is that it changes who are "eligible voters' who can sign the petition. The measure, which already has been approved by the House, goes to the governor if it gets final Senate OK.

Under current law, that figure -- the denominator in the equation -- is computed off the number of people registered with that political party. So for Republicans wanting to run for statewide office, that means 5,570 signatures.

The new formula, however, requires the computation to be based not just off the number of party adherents but also political independents.

That's not a big deal for Republicans, with the one-quarter percent of the new total coming up at 5,707.

For Libertarians, however, the story is totally different.

With just 27,706 registered with the party, it takes only 139 signatures for someone to get nominated to run for statewide office. But adding the independents to the mix -- and changing the calculation -- moves the burden up to 2,987.

Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said the change makes sense. He said existing law already permits candidates to get signatures not only from members of their own party but also independents. And the 1,167,083 independents -- 36 percent of total registration -- outnumber those affiliated with any political party.

But Barry Hess, who has run for governor on the Libertarian Party ticket several times, said this is just another effort by the major parties -- and the Republicans who control the Legislature in particular -- to keep candidates from his party off the ballot.

Yarbrough conceded as much.

"In effect, what we have is that people who have historically been third-party candidates who've been able to get on the ballot with an incredibly small number of signatures,' he said. And Yarbrough said they can get those from all those independents, which is why their numbers should figure in the calculations.

And Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who is sponsoring the legislation, conceded two years ago in pushing virtually identical legislation that his real goal is creating an easier path for GOP candidates to win.

He argued in 2013 that people try to "manipulate the outcome of elections by putting third-party candidates on the ballot.'

"All they have to do right now is get a dozen or 15 signatures and on the ballot they go,' he said.

And he claimed that at least one 2012 congressional race and maybe two did not go "in the direction I would have liked to have seen them go ' -- and would have gone, Mesnard said, had this law been in place at that time.

In CD 1, Republican Jonathan Paton fell short in his bid to oust incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. Paton garnered 113,594 votes against 122,774 for Kirkpatrick.

But Libertarian Kim Allen picked up 15,227 votes -- votes Mesnard contended likely would have gone to Paton to help him win.

Similarly, in the newly created CD 9, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema bested Republican Vernon Parker by 10,251 votes, with Libertarian Powell Gammill tallying 16,620.

Hess said Republicans are sadly mistaken if they think keeping Libertarians out will result in the election of more GOP candidates.

"They really are so small-minded as to think that Libertarians are just going to vote for anybody, a lesser evil,' he said. Hess said if Libertarians can't get their candidates on the ballot the regular way they'll write in names rather than simply vote for someone whose name is on the ballot.

"There is no good Republican, there is no good Democrat,' Hess said.

In driving the point home in 2013, Mesnard told colleagues they should worry about their own political futures.

He said the amended requirement applies to all races -- including legislative contests.

He said that if they did not vote for the change they could be personally and directly affected in their next race.

A voter-sponsored referendum blocked the legislation, which had other changes in voting laws, from taking effect. And legislators repealed the measure last year.

HB 2608 resurrects this key provision.

Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia

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