Other than in the past on a professional basis, when he wrote highly technical articles about IBM's AS/400 computer system, Brian Kelly receives no compensation for his work. Additionally, Kelly has not taken any donations or contributions other than for his US Senate Campaign of 2012. Mr. Kelly has recetly canceled his write-in campaign for the US Senate, and instead he endorses Tom Smith for US Senator from Pennsylvania v. Robert P. Casey Jr. If you would like to donate to the closed campaign to help defray costs, feel free to go to www.kellyforussenate.com and click the DONATE button. Your donations are most appreciated.
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In these experiences, I learned why so few regular Americans consider running for office. Running for office is like a combination of running a gauntlet and running an obstacle course. Wherever you go, there is an issue. My experience taught me that we need a lot more fine tuning to make our democracy more perfect. All Americans must demand that our state officials end the current system that is rigged in their favor and create a system without obstacles that will give many more good men and good women the incentive to represent and honestly serve the people.
A system designed by and for politicians
Running for public office is not a treat and the more I learned about what is needed to be successful, the more I doubted if this is what the Founders dreamed about. I saw obstacles at multiple levels of government preventing regular people from participating in the political process. Politicians have created a system, which forces any good American wanting to serve their country as a public official, to pay a huge “poll tax” for that privilege. Whereas laws are on the books to prevent poll taxes from denying the people the right to vote, they are in fact levied and collected to keep regular citizens as political candidates, from unseating entrenched politicians.
Elected representatives have done their best over the years to keep Americans from running as candidates for public office. No wonder there seems to be a dearth of excellent candidates when our system is rigged by corrupt politicians to assure their seats and to give us exactly the poor results we have been getting from government.
Having only the most elite and politically inclined families in the US being able to navigate through all the hoops necessary to become candidates for office is the ultimate poll tax. Corrupt people in essence make sure only corrupt people can gain office. So, the public’s choice is either a lot of corruption or just a little corruption; but there is always corruption. It is how it must be when a government system is permitted by the people to be designed by corrupt people—to be corrupt.
And so we find very few of our neighbors willing to take on the challenge of attempting to achieve an elected office. Without giving up a bit of your soul, from my experience, it is almost impossible for a regular person to successfully complete a campaign for public office. For our democracy to survive, this must change. We the people must demand it as one of our priorities. All state legislative candidates should be compelled in debates and in opinion forums to discuss the global notion of ballot access for US citizens and offer their solutions to this grave national problem. The system is designed to discourage mere mortals from participating. However, thieves and scoundrels find it to be fine tuned for their liking.
Just like you, I think of myself as a regular person. I believe that anybody who works can be successful, and I do not believe that those who choose not to work should have any control over the success of those that do.
After a ton of entry level jobs from when I was five years old until I was twenty-one years of age, my adult work career began with the IBM Corporation in Utica, New York. I enjoyed twenty-three years as a Senor Systems Engineer working with IBM’s larger computers in businesses that used the company’s equipment to gain a marketing edge. I then took a job as the Chief Technology Officer at Misericordia University, while beginning my own information technology consultancy. For many years I was an adjunct professor at a number of local universities, teaching various information technology courses on a part-time basis. I finished my academic career a year ago as an Assistant Professor (not part time) on the faculty of Marywood University. I have done a lot as a regular person, I admit; but so have most of US, who were born with a USA work ethic.
Ballot access is something that more and more is denied to regular people. Its effects can be seen by the quality of candidates we see bubble up for all types of elective office. In politics, the cream is not assured of rising to the top. In many cases, the unethical bottom rung has a better chance of success. For the US, now in a declining period, we need the best people, and yet our ballot access laws deny US that opportunity.
Ballot access can be defined as the ease or difficulty encountered by a person trying to get his or her name on an election ballot as a candidate for public office. Ballot access is controlled by state legislatures. The implication is that the mechanics of all elections are controlled by the states, not the federal government. Sometimes part of the process is delegated to counties and municipalities. For those not able to get their names on the ballot in an election, some states permit write-in candidates. Any voter in a state that permits “write-ins,” can simply write in their candidate’s name on the ballot and for each write-in with the same name, the candidate gets one vote when the votes are tallied—if the votes are tallied.
Since I know my own stories so well, and I will be telling a number of them shortly, let me first tell a few stories about ballot access issues that candidates face in some other states.
Many conservatives got to laugh heartily in 2010 when a “political nobody” named Alvin Greene won the nomination for US Senator in South Carolina. Alvin Greene came up with $10,440, and registered to be the next US Senator on the Democratic side. The $10,440 represented 1% of the salary he would have earned over six years as a US Senator. That and not much more was what got him on the ballot. That was it. Ten thousand dollars for nothing in return is enough to scare most regular people away from running for the office Alvin Greene pursued in SC. Democrats were furious and suggested he was a Republican plant, yet Greene remained steadfast that it was his idea. It is a fascinating story.
Greene eventually lucked out with ballot position # 1 for the Primary Election and many believe his ballot position won him the nomination for US Senate. During the campaign, he raised no money and did little campaigning. Yet, he was able to defeat a better-known and better-financed opponent, Vic Rawl. Rawl had held a number of SC state offices prior to the primary election. Many, including leading Democrats have asked questions about Greene’s legitimacy as a candidate. South Carolina had determined that anybody who could come up with the cash could run for the office. And, so Democrats got Alvin Greene as a Primary Election candidate, and surprise, surprise, he won the Democratic nomination for US Senator to face off with Republican Jim DeMint in the fall.
It does not bother me that Greene won. That is democracy. The people’s voice prevails and in this respect, it is good. It was good that Greene won. Greene got on the ballot and he won. That says there is something good about the system as Alvin Greene is surely not a politician. My big concern is not about Greene winning the nomination. My concern is: Why so much money? Why were there not a number of other aspiring candidates for this important office? We all know the answer. $10,000 is an awful lot of money to put up when there is no possibility for a return on the investment. Greene had no chance of a victory. Perhaps a candidate who was willing to play ball with the Democrats could have gotten their support. Who know?
I also know the answer to the question about why so much money. The official answer when the government’s spokespersons are brave enough to tell the truth is that the $10,000 plus is to avoid ballot clutter. I am not kidding. How brazen of these corrupt politicians in all states to suggest that Democracy may produce ballot clutter. Thhis would result in the candidate chosen by the elites to not be noticed as easily, and thus the candidate supported by the power brokers would risk defeat.
There is a long-time premise by politicians that the people must be protected from too many candidates on the ballot. Give this premise your own logic test and ask yourself who is really being protected. Politicians continually contrive ways, such as South Carolina’s heavy access fee to keep regular people from choosing to run for office. No matter what trickeries they come up with—either an awful lot of work (signatures) or a large fee ($10,440), it seems to work. Regular people do not run for office very regularly. I cannot remember a lot of ballot clutter in any election. Can you?
But, is that what our democracy is all about—politicians keeping regular people off the ballot under the guise of ballot clutter so they can keep their incumbent seats? Should we be surprised that such laws favor the incumbents when it is the incumbents that make the laws that keep regular people from running for office? It is funny the things you don’t know about until you dig a bit deeper into the political cesspool. As you would expect, the deeper you get, the more it stinks.
The federal government has deferred the administering of elections to the states. Thus, just about all ballot access laws originate from the states. The states determine who may appear on ballots and who may not. The US Constitution, specifically Article I, Section 4, gives the authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of federal elections to each state, unless Congress legislates otherwise. Unfortunately, the states choose never to get together to put together a set of appropriate, though optional, ballot access standards that can be adopted by all states. Consequently any similarities of ballot access laws in the fifty states are purely by accident. Clearly as you read the laws, some states have not given the matter enough thought.
Despite there being no apparent commonality in state ballot access laws; just about all states have dug into the notion that they must restrict ballot access to avoid too many candidates on the ballot. There is this overriding concern that too many candidates would cause bad things to happen to the voters, such as splitting the votes of similar minded voters. This does not hold water. However, it is true that a fair system of ballot access, resulting in more candidates on the ballot, can cause bad things to happen to incumbents. After all, fair implies not corrupt. Since a fair system would not provide an easy, yet corrupt way for incumbents to hold on to the seats that they have come to believe are theirs, there is no incentive for lawmakers to enact such a fair system.
Ballot access reform would be easy to do if politicians were not in charge of making the laws. They rarely make laws that affect them negatively regardless of how much it may help democracy and help the people. It is like telling the foxes that the chickens have hired guard dogs because they are not pleased with the job the foxes have been doing in guarding the hen house. Can you imagine the foxes realizing that they will not only lose their compensation but it will be even more difficult to reduce the chicken population by one unit per night with those darn dogs outside? As you well know, foxes are not interested in chickens having any protection.
Reasonably easy access to the ballot does not lead to a glut of candidates, even where many candidates do appear on the ballot, but the political foxes in such cases do lose their advantage and thus no longer are the favored options. Protecting the public from too many candidates is simply a ruse that has been perpetrated for over 100 years by a quiet consortium of master politicians. Americans must demand that our legislators create a fair system for our future and the future of our nation.
California recently had an election in which 135 candidates appeared on the ballot. So what? Did the world end? No! Was democracy served? You bet! The media in the Golden State reported that voters had no trouble finding the candidate for whom they wished to vote. Unfortunately, the incumbent who would have won the election if democracy were not in place more than likely had a different opinion of the process.
Before the 1880’s any number of candidates could run in any election. That is true democracy. After the reforms put forth in 1880, the government took control over who could be on the ballot. This brought with it the danger that this power would be abused by officials who were controlled by the big political parties. From this point on, more and more restrictive ballot access laws to influence election outcomes have been enacted by the ruling parties in the states. Why would this be? Even the naïve know that it is to ensure re-election of their own party’s favorite candidates.
Whereas Alvin Greene had to come up with $10,440 to run for the Senate in South Carolina, if he were running for the House, it would have cost him just a third of that since a House seat is good for only two years. How does how much money a person puts up have anything to do with how good a legislator or a representative of the people they may become? You know that money favors a certain class to whom $10,000 does not mean too much, and it also favors machines that can tap the resources of their corrupt members to pay any “candidate tax. “
Though $10,440 is a high price, what if the requirements were to pay nothing but the potential candidates needed to get 2000 signatures from like party members in less than three weeks? This is the PA requirement for the US Senate. First of all, for one person to collect this many signatures in less than three weeks by himself or herself is an impossibility. At $5.00 per signature, however, which is on the upper end of a reasonable rate for a “nomination petition contractor,” this would add up to a cost of at least $10,000 to get 2000 signatures. However, since consultants recommend two times the required number of signatures to assure enough valid signatures in the event the opponent challenges the validity of the signatures, the costs go up. For example, 4,000 signatures would cost $20,000 and of course it would be a much tougher act to achieve in a three week period than merely paying $10,440 as in South Carolina to assure ballot access. Neither the PA or the SC approach helps a regular person who merely wants to support his country by serving in elected office without going broke or suffering from exhaustion in the process. Neither approach makes one think running for office is worth a citizen’s time, effort, and money.
I have no desire to be the president of the US, and to be honest, my reason has nothing to do with ballot access laws. But, if I did have such a desire, I would find the ballot access laws for president to be too daunting anyway, and I would not proceed. In such a corrupt and confusing system, I give kudos to those who take up the challenge. Let’s take the case of Rocky Anderson, who is a former Salt Lake City mayor. Anderson is running for US president in the newly formed Justice Party. He planned to begin the signature process in late June to get on the ballot in Minnesota, but he ran into a legislative wrinkle: In Minnesota, “you have to have a vice presidential candidate before you can start gathering signatures.” Anderson was also forced to file suit against Vermont whose laws say that after all of the work in getting nominating petitions, each signature must be validated by the respective city clerk’s office before they can be submitted to the Secretary of State. How many cities are there in Vermont? The idea of course is the more work, the more costs, the more delays, and the more likely third party candidates will simply walk away and not challenge the status quo.
Larry Littlefield wrote this piece about NY State’s restrictive ballot access laws. It gets all of our hearts sweltering about why it can’t just be honesty that gets candidates elected?
“The current city elections have brought the usual tales of candidates who wanted to run for office, but were kept off the ballot by New York State’s ballot access laws. As someone who once became fed up enough to run against my state legislator myself, I can tell you that those laws are designed to prevent elections, and make it exceedingly difficult to get on the ballot and speak your piece. The number of signatures required to get on the ballot for a primary against a major party opponent is large, and the time in which one is allowed to collect them is short, particularly for someone who has a job. Independent candidates, seeking to run in the general election when everyone shows up, require three times as many, collected in even less time. Minor party candidates, including Republicans in most of New York City, require fewer signatures, but must get the signatures of five percent of all party members in a district.
“I can tell you from experience that the election rolls include many former voters who have either died or moved, meaning one must in fact get the signatures of ten or 15 percent of those who are actually there, and it takes half an hour to get each signature. And then, after all that effort, candidates are routinely thrown off the ballot for formatting errors.”
Ask yourself why, if lawmakers know that at the rate of two to 10 signatures per hour, no human being can hold a job and bring in 4,000 signatures, why is this a requirement to get on the ballot? Why is this law? The answer is simple. It is so that fewer and fewer regular people are inclined to try to take away a politician’s lifetime job entitlement when the obstacles are large. The people must demand fair ballot access laws in all states for all citizens who wish to serve the public. Corrupt systems serve only the corrupt.
Back in the 1880’s there was an individual who wanted real ballot reform. His name was Dean Wigmore. He suggested that ten signatures of fellow citizens would demonstrate that the individual had more than a modicum of support for their candidacy for office. I agree. Of what value to the democratic process are 4000 signatures brought in by a canvassing company or the many loyal staffers of an incumbent?
Despite this great 19th century wisdom, incumbents over the years chose to minimize their risk of defeat. They still do not want to make it easy for John Doe or John Q. Public, or Jane Doe, or Jane Q. Public to run for office as they might defeat the incumbent. Pennsylvania is one of the worst states in terms of signatures, especially for independents and minor parties. States like Pennsylvania have been cited by international bodies for their unfairness in ballot access.
There is a great Pennsylvania story about Bob Casey Jr., who at the time this true story took place, was the PA State Treasurer. Casey’s campaign worked the political system and succeeded to eliminate Carl Romanelli, a Green Party candidate from running against now Senator Casey back in the 2006 general election. Romanelli brought in over 95,000 signatures on his ballot petition though he needed “only” 67,000 signatures. Each petition sheet held as many as 50 signatures and as few as one.
Already you can see this was not a fair deal for Romanelli, who brought in a truck load of paper. There were about 3500 nominating petition sheets in the Romanelli packet. Casey needed just 2000 signatures according to PA law. For fear the crowned prince designate of the Democratic Party of PA might not win the US Senate election against Rick Santorum, with Romanelli as a spoiler, the Casey people had Carl Romanelli thrown off the ballot, plain and simple even though he had brought in more valid signatures than any candidate that had ever run for any office in Pennsylvania. There was no way Romanelli would have survived the Casey challenge even if he had brought in a million signatures. Some people say, “that’s politics.” I say, that’s government corruption.
Moreover, after they got what they wanted with candidate Casey locked in a one-on-one battle with then Senator Rick Santorum, they did not back-off on the most unfair part of the PA ballot access laws. If a candidate loses the fight to count the signatures, the law says it is their responsibility to reimburse the state and the other team for the total cost of validating the signatures. For Carl Romanelli Jr., the bill was over $80,000.00, which in NEPA can buy a new home.
Surely if Bob Casey Jr. had said, “Lay off Romanelli!” nobody in the state would have bothered the challenger, but Casey apparently was not a big enough man to ask that this penalty not be imposed on Romanelli. Casey knew that even at an international level, the ballot fairness bodies felt that PA’s law was the most unfair to regular people in all but Communist countries. It still is. Shame on PA legislators for not fixing this!
So, the Democrats almost ruined Romanelli financially with an $80,000 plus penalty for not surviving the punitive Pennsylvania valid signature gauntlet.
The same sort of thing had happened to Ralph Nader, who ran as a Green candidate for president in 2004. The Greens knew they needed lots of signatures for Romanelli, and they brought in more than enough in my humble opinion. With Bob Casey Jr. as the PA Treasurer, the man who signed the paychecks for a lot of staffers, the Democrats were able to use taxpayer dollars and a bucketful of dishonesty and questionable practices to assure Romanelli was knocked off the ballot. Looking at the Romanelli case, it is apparent that a few judges, who either did not know, or chose not to understand the meaning of democracy, helped the Casey team out quite a bit.
Almost six years later, somehow now Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. remains unscathed from what became a scandal known as Bonusgate. Many of the high ranking Democratic state legislators, who supported Casey by green lighting the use of taxpayer dollars to defeat Romanelli, are in prison right now for those corrupt deeds. Though Casey paid all the PA staffers when he was the ranking financial person in PA—the State Treasurer, he was never indicted.
Proponents of more open ballot access, which should include you and I, and the rest of Americans, argue properly that restricting access to the ballot has the effect of unjustly restricting the choices available to the voters and typically disadvantages third party candidates as it did the Green Party in Pennsylvania multiple times. It also hurts other candidates, who are not affiliated with the established parties.
Despite everybody knowing about this big scandal in Pennsylvania, PA legislators have done nothing of substance in the six years since it occurred to make it better for PA citizens. My suggestion for solving this in all states is simple. No state or federal legislator has a right to their job but for the fact that they serve the people. And even then it is up to the people. All PA legislators who have not spoken up, and all those in other states, who have not spoken up and have not constructed new laws to solve this major issue should be thrown out of office. Ballot access restrictions are a perpetration against democracy. Pennsylvania politicians and South Carolina politicians are not the only perpetrators. Check out your own state when you have a chance.
When you look at your own state, you will find that ballot access problems of multiple kinds are pervasive. It is up to you to correct them. In my opinion, a new candidate for office should be charged nothing. In fact, he or she should receive a small stipend for running for office and the state should provide Web pages, you-tube type videos, Public shows and forums, and free public radio and TV time, and they should also provide printed material about all candidates. A candidate should never have to pay a dime to run for office. Perhaps a pre-primary may be necessary if out of nowhere thousands of candidates make it to the ballot. Better yet, the range voting system (aka score system) as explained in Part III of this article can be used to make the election fair regardless of the number of candidates. I found through experience that there are few avenues in which any candidates are given free air time and press time to get their messages to the people—even in public media. Government should support a system in which the next government has the opportunity to be “of the people.” Incumbents should not be given this opportunity as they have already stacked the deck in their favor.
Mary Norwood, who one time ran for Mayor of Atlanta, recently ran for Fulton County Commission chairman as an independent. Like many of us who have run for office, she quickly learned that her toughest problem would not be the incumbent, but it would be getting on the ballot. Norwood says that “Georgia has the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country.” Fact Checkers say she is right. For a county position, she needs 5% of the voters to sign her petition. She needs about 22,700 signatures to get on the ballot. Let’s be honest. That is impossible for somebody who works to ever achieve. Ironically, Illinois, according to Politifact.com, has similar ballot access issues with its restrictive laws. I suppose the Chicago machine has ways of getting the job done if you are on good terms with them.
In Florida, ballot access has been pretty tough also—and for an awful long time. Third parties and independents need not apply—since about 1931. Reports are that only two third party candidates for Congress and just one for the Senate, managed to get on the ballot in the Sunshine State. As an aside, it was 1920 for an independent to make it to the ballot as Governor. There is a filing fee of 7% of the salary plus 196,255 valid signatures for statewide offices. If you want to run for public office, do not move to Florida.
Richard Winger, who is known as “the man” in US ballot access issues, has very few good things to say about Massachusetts. In his own words: “Massachusetts ballot access procedures for members of small qualified parties to get on their own party’s primary ballot are a disgrace, the worst in the nation. They are so bad, they even injure Republicans in MA. In 2008, out of the 10 U.S. House races in MA, there was no Republican in six of them.”
For years, dirty politicians have been able to make it more difficult for good candidates to emerge to seek office in a corrupt ballot access system. As Americans, we must hound our state legislators until we make the system one in which ordinary Americans would be pleased to participate. My experience in Pennsylvania suggests that our legislators are quietly hopeful that we won’t find out they have not served us on this issue, and that we will let things be. This leaves me with no confidence in our legislature, and so I would suggest in Pennsylvania and for similar unresponsive legislatures across the country, we sending them all home unless they pull a one eighty and support ballot access reform. It is time to give all those who contribute to the demise of our democracy the big boot out of town. Many more Americans are worthy to be our representatives than the few this corrupt systems permits to come forth. Eventually, when we can get good people into our state legislatures, we may even come back to an honest government. Like most matters of government in which the public consistently winds up on the bad end of the stick, this matter cannot be solved by sitting around wondering what the other guy is going to do about it. All of us must get off our comfortable couches to fight for ballot access reform in our respective states. We have no other choice to save our democracy.
Brian Kelly is a business owner and former assistant professor at Marywood University; he and his wife live in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Kelly is running for Senate in his state and believes limited government brings liberty and freedom.
About Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly is a business owner and former assistant professor at Marywood University; he and his wife, Pat live in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Kelly ran for COngress and for the US Senate in his state and he believes limited government brings liberty and freedom. Brian's 48th book is titled, Saving America, The How-To Book. It is available at www.checkoutking.com and www.itjungle.com.