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The Daily Tar Heel

Libertarians Gain Spot on Ballot

Staff Writer

N.C. Libertarians secured their spot on statewide ballots -- at least through 2004 -- after they finished collecting more than 59,000 petition signatures last week.

State law requires political parties that did not receive at least 10 percent of the popular vote during the most recent gubernatorial election to submit a petition to the N.C. Board of Elections containing signatures of at least 2 percent of the number of people who voted in that race -- 58,842 signatures in this case.

Barbara Howe, chairwoman of the N.C. Libertarian Party and last year's Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, said the state's severe standards inhibit third-party candidacies because of the high costs they incur and the time they consume.

She said the state-mandated petition drive cost the party more than $100,000, -- money that could have been spent campaigning.

"People's resources are limited, they can only give so much," she said. "If they give to the petition drive, they may not be able to give during the election."

Howe said volunteers collected about half of the signatures, with professional petitioners collecting the rest. She added that most of the $100,000 cost the party incurred was from hiring people to collect the signatures.

The Libertarians began their petition drive Nov. 7, 2000 -- Election Day -- and completed it last week.

Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, a California-based group that advocates election reform, said North Carolina had some of the most stringent requirements for third-party and independent candidates to get on the ballot.

"In terms of the number of signatures it requires to get on the ballot, North Carolina is second in the nation. California is the only state that requires more," he said.

Several third-party leaders, including Howe and Doug Stuber, chairman of the N.C. Green Party, lobbied legislators for changes in state ballot access requirements.

"North Carolina is way behind the times in terms of democracy," Stuber said. "They are squelching democracy by keeping it a two-party system."

Sen. Wib Gulley, D-Durham, introduced the Ballot Access Reform Act last year, which would have extended the amount of time third parties have to collect the necessary signatures.

The bill passed the Senate in May but was killed in the House.

One of the bill's most ardent opponents, N.C. House Minority Leader Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, said he did not feel the state's ballot standards were too demanding and that the bill was unnecessary.

"I think it dilutes the strength of the parties," he said. "I think the two-party system works fine. I like the idea of Republicans and Democrats.

Gulley attributed the failure of the Ballot Access Bill to the objections of Daughtry and other House Republicans.

But Daughtry said defeating the bill was a bipartisan effort. "We had several people vote against it -- Democrats and Republicans."

All 58 House Republicans except one, along with 16 Democrats, voted against the bill.

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In spite of the Ballot Reform Act's failure in the House, Gulley said he plans to continue his efforts to change state ballot access laws.

But because of the legislative calendar, the bill will have to wait two years before it can be reintroduced.

In the meantime, Howe said the Libertarians are setting their sites on the 2002 Senate race. "We're already thinking about who we're going to run for Jesse's seat."

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