Want to run for office as an independent – not as a Republican, Democrat or anything else? Thanks to Mark Moore, you’ve just been given two more months to submit your signatures.
Moore, of Pea Ridge, won a lawsuit Jan. 25 where U.S. District Judge James Moody declared the state’s March 1 deadline for independent candidates unconstitutional and issued an injunction on Moore’s behalf.
Moore had sued the state in 2014 because he wanted to run for lieutenant governor as an independent and believed the law was stacked in favor of Republicans and Democrats. Under current law, independent candidates must collect signatures over 90 days and submit them to the secretary of state’s office by March 1, the end of the candidate filing period. Republicans and Democrats must submit party filing fees by that date but won’t hold their primary elections until May 22.
Moore said the early date compressed the timeline for independent candidates. Republicans and Democrats could survey the landscape and decide at the last minute to file. In contrast, independents had to decide early and then collect signatures – 10,000 for a statewide office – during the cold December, January and February months.
Judge Moody rejected Secretary of State Mark Martin’s argument that his office needs the early deadline to have time to process the petitions. The judge noted that the number of independent candidates has dropped since legislators changed the deadline from May 1 to March 1 in 2013. In 2012, there were eight independent candidates in Arkansas; in 2014, there was one, and there were two in 2016.
So now what? The secretary of state’s office could appeal the ruling. Moody left in place the 90-day window, so the deadline doesn’t change for those few independents who may have started collecting signatures.
What if someone decides now to campaign as an independent? The secretary of state’s office says their deadline is now May 1.
Now, the Legislature needs to change the law to comply with the court ruling – again. Moore’s attorney, James Linger of Tulsa, said several Arkansas cases over the past 40 years have overturned laws that disadvantaged independents and third parties. Those include a 1976 case decided by the Supreme Court. Linger recently won another lawsuit representing the state’s Libertarian Party regarding a law that forced third parties to select their candidates months before Republicans and Democrats held their primaries.
Why does it matter, considering so few independents run for office, and they have so little chance of winning?
Three reasons. First, voters deserve choices.
Second, some candidates, like Moore, don’t fit into the two-party duopoly, which he said is corrupt and driving the country into debt.
And finally, sometimes independents do win. Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders all are independents.
If independents do win, they might make a difference. A nationwide movement, Unite America, is seeking to elect independents to closely divided legislatures, including Congress. A handful of independent United States senators could form a voting bloc and control the balance of power, forcing Republicans and Democrats to come together around them and solve problems. Four independent candidates are running for the split Colorado Legislature with support from Unite Colorado.
No such movement has taken hold in Arkansas, which has long been dominated by one party or the other. But even if there’s never a Unite Arkansas branch, the window for independent candidates should be opened wide, and for as long as possible.
May 1, which is six months before the election, seems more than reasonable – for Mark Moore, or for anyone else.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.