September 10, 2010

Easy filing for major party candidates makes for crowded primary ballots

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Easy filing for major party candidates makes for crowded primary ballots

By Megan Poinski

Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Maryland voters wondering why there are so many candidates running for so many offices, including some of the most prestigious, may not be surprised to learn that Maryland is one of the easiest states for major party candidates to get on the ballot.

In a prime example, 20 challengers – six Democrats, 11 Republicans, and one each from the Green, Constitution and Libertarian parties – are vying to take the seat of longtime Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is seeking a fifth six-year term.   

In order to get on the ballot, these Senate candidates needed only to cough up a $290 filing fee — as long as they met federal age and campaign finance requirements. Unlike other states, they didn’t need to come up with thousands in a filing fee or collect signatures on a petition.

Appearing in person in the Board of Elections office to file the paperwork could actually be the most challenging part of getting on the ballot.

“We have a low standard here,” said Jared DeMarinis, director of the candidacy and campaign finance division of the State Board of Elections.

For the minor parties, each candidate also needed to present the Board of Elections with a certificate showing they had been nominated to run. 

Getting on the ballot elsewhere

That $290 fee for the statewide offices such as U.S. Senate, governor, attorney general and comptroller, is the highest hurdle. It’s even easier easy for potential candidates for other state or local office to get on the ballot in Maryland, as long as they are members of a recognized political party.

For the U.S. House of Representatives, the filing fee is $100, which may explain why there are 54 candidates for Maryland’s eight seats. Several hundred candidates came up with the $50 needed to file for one of the 188 seats in Maryland General Assembly. And for almost all the other local offices, the filing fee is only $25.

Richard Winger, publisher of Ballot Access News in San Francisco and a national expert on candidates’ ballot requirements, said that Maryland is one of the easiest states in the nation for a major party candidate to get on the ballot. He estimated that about 80% of the states have more difficult requirements.

A few states do require require collecting signatures on petitions to get on the ballot. Other states, Winger said, often require filing fees that are a percentage of the salary for the office that the candidate is running for. In Delaware, Winger said, candidates pay a filing fee that is a percentage of the salary they will draw for all of the years in the term – meaning that candidates for six-year U.S. Senate terms pay the most. In Florida, he said, congressional candidates sometimes pay filing fees of about $10,000.

State offices usually have higher fees to get on the ballot, DeMarinis said. In Delaware, it costs $4,288 to run for comptroller, and $5,516 to run for attorney general. In Maryland, the filing fee for both of those offices is $290.

“In Maryland, it is that way because we can’t create barriers to getting on the ballot,” DeMarinis said. “If we do, it goes against peoples’ constitutional rights.”

However, the $290 maximum filing fee makes it much easier for anyone who is just thinking about running to get on the ballot.

“As time goes on and inflation sets in, $290 gets a lot easier to raise,” Winger said.

What this means

In the 2010 election, there are 686 candidates who will appear on ballots for all state offices, DeMarinis said. The number of candidates is about average for a gubernatorial election year, he said. According to State Board of Elections records, over the last 32 years, an average of 698 candidates appear on ballots for state office running for governor and the legislature every four years.

DeMarinis said that the low filing fees may inspire some people to get on the ballot.

“The filing fee for county board of education is $25,” DeMarinis said. “A person may say, ‘I have ideas about education, and it’s only $25 to run.’ They might not if it costs $100, or $3,000.”

Potential candidates may also be swayed by events and sentiments nationwide. Congress has been roundly criticized – and DeMarinis pointed out that this year’s most popular statewide office to run for is U.S. Senate.

Other statewide offices have fewer candidates. Attorney General Doug Gansler is running totally unopposed in the primary and in the general election, too. In the race for comptroller, the only Democrat running is incumbent Peter Franchot. But on the Republican side there are three candidates for comptroller, including 18-year-old Brendan Madigan, who says he’s the youngest candidate ever to appear on the ballot in Maryland.

Winger, who favors greater ballot access, said that more candidates don’t necessarily confuse voters. Even if people come to the voting booth and find themselves having to select one candidate from 10 names, Winger said they can still make a smart and informed choice.

“Too many candidates is not a crisis,” Winger said. “People can cope. People cope with menus, where they may have 50 to 100 choices.”