Making the Grade: Did Our State Pass the Test?

Students aren't the only ones getting graded this fall. Four states -- Wyoming, Virginia, Missouri, and Hawaii received flunking marks from the non-profit Brennan Center for Justice for their lack of diversity in candidates on the ballot for presidential elections. (Pennsylvania came in a close fifth with a grade of D-.) The Brennan Center--housed at NYU law school--failed these states because each was overtly hostile to new candidates attempting to get on the ballot. Specifically, "By manipulating ballot rules, individual states exert a profound, and sometimes unfair, influence on who can seek to represent the entire country while markedly increasing campaign costs," said E. Joshua Rosenkranz, Brennan Center's executive director. Such manipulation methods differ depending on the state. Some prevent the potential candidate from their day at the polls by imposing higher costs on politicians outside the two party loop. According to the Brennan Center, a major party candidate carries a $300,000 petitioning price tag, while independent and third party candidates are required to hand over $1,100,000 and $1,600,000 respectively. Third parties and independents also are shut out by ballot rules that require them to gather 20 and 40 times more signatures and deny them shortcuts granted to Democrats or RepublicansÑ such as the option to pay their way out of signature gathering. All of this backroom maneuvering leaves voters with few choices come election time. In the 1996 primaries, for instance, New York had two candidates on the ballot in every district, while D.C., Idaho and Montana each had four. Kansas canceled its primary altogether because "the results of both the Republican and Democratic primaries were foregone," according to the Brennan Center. Luckily, not every state spurns outsiders. Five states received marks to make a mother proud: Colorado, Mississippi, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Massachusetts all received A's in the state rankings. Colorado--the only state to earn an A+Ñ is expected to have 14 presidential candidates on the November ballot. Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Arkansas and Iowa are the most hospitable to independent candidates and Arkansas, Iowa, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Colorado are non-hostile to third party candidates. The Brennan Center also ranked states according to the recent presidential primaries. The states with the narrowest voter choice in the primaries are New York, South Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas. It takes the mystery out of why the two party system has not opened up to more political affiliations. Shame, shame. Let's hope they improve their performance next time.

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