Checkers In The Chicken House [Part 2, Appeal]

By Peter Bearse

The main appeal of the Bearse campaign to the Ballot Law Commission (BLC) was pitched at a level of quality over quantity – what author John McPhee calls “a higher level of the game.” The Ballot Law Commission ruled solely and narrowly on the numbers -- simply on the basis that we could not present 242 additionally certified petitions over the number of those claimed to be already certified by SoS staff (lower by 73 than the number we counted). Yet, the numbers in this case should have been interpreted so as to favor our appeal for ballot access. Why? – Because of:

Errors: A most serious matter, as indicated earlier. So, we asked that the Commission order a recheck of our petitions so that the signers, at least, can benefit from this exercise without their right to vote being placed in jeopardy. [Note: A number of those disqualified called by our campaign expressed anger or dismay that their petitions were disqualified or rejected. They also thanked us for the calls. But for our reaching out to them, they might have forgotten to re-register at new addresses and thus might have lost their votes in the upcoming general election.]

“Missing” petitions, plus “Counting Mistakes”: Altogether, these represent some sloppiness in the handling of our petitions. As indicated earlier, “the benefit of the doubt” should go to appellant since signatories signed in good faith and neither they nor appellant are responsible for the mistakes identified.

“Unendorsed” v and “Unable to Process”: These speak to carelessness and/or variability in application or (non)enforcement of the law. Here, too, rulings of the Commission should favor our appeal. The costs of such actions or inaction should not be borne by their victims -- the candidate, his signatories and the volunteers who contributed valuable time to help conduct the petition drive. Rather, they should be borne by those sworn to uphold the law.

With respect to the latter, the benefits of correcting failures to “conform to the law” significantly exceed the costs of so doing. These are the benefits to the Secretary of State’s Office, the Commission and, most of all, future signatories that would derive from a greater regularity in the application of deadlines, certifications, processing and handling of petitions. The greatest benefits of all? – buttressing confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and affirming citizens’ right to petition.

Meanwhile, the costs of the Commission ruling against our appeal offer no offsetting benefits. They amount to:

Dishonoring the law by appearing to credit its uneven application;.

An unqualified NO to voters who in this election, more so than in any other in recent memory, are dissatisfied with the choices confronting them, i.e., a big NO to voter choice. Presidential primary results provide support for this point: Look at the influence that independents have had in many states. As a candidate who has already met people in all parts of the 1st District (petitions were signed by voters in 64 of 80 municipalities in the CD), Dr. Bearse found most voters to be unusually receptive to an independent candidacy, while expressing dissatisfaction with the major parties, their candidates and their poor performance in Congress.

A discouraging word to volunteers (not paid signature-gatherers) who have gathered signed petitions properly, in good faith, with high hopes that their fine efforts would be honored rather than dismissed [and so dishonoring or diminishing their right to petition, as indicated earlier].

Undermining an important provision of our NH Constitution [Art.] 11 [Elections and Elective Franchises], which states that ”Every inhabitant of the state, having the proper qualifications, has equal right to be elected into office.” Note “right” is a strong word. Apart from the obvious inequality of the requirement that an independent candidate needs to submit 500 more valid signatures than a party candidate [1500 vs. 1000], the “uneven” enforcement of the elections laws may advantage some candidates and disadvantage others.

Dishonoring the public interest: Because, in this case, the public interest would be better served by the higher, broader appeal we mounted than the Commission’s dismissal of us on the basis of SoS counting – a very narrow construction of the numbers. Why?, because the public is better served by honoring the values of voter choice and volunteers’ participation in the political process.

Saying that two wrongs make a right, something that we teach our children is wrong: Our scrutiny found a variety of wrongs in the process by which petitions are counted and certified. The Commission ruling implied that their ruling in our favor would be wrong. Here, “wrong” is inability to “conform with the law.” Yet, the key question in deciding an appeal should be: Where is the balance of the scales of justice as to what action is more right? The previous paragraph offers a clear answer: The greater weight, tipping the balance in favor of our appeal, lies with the public interest.

Our petition drive should be a learning experience that provides benefits into the future. Our proceeding should not be seen as an opportunity, a la the “blame game,” to allocate blame and levy costs in the present. We have all done the best we can under trying circumstances. Now that we have reached “the bottom line”, a question still remains: What will the SoS and the BLC do to effect reforms in the petition certification and counting process, to address the problems identified by our experience in this case and to buttress confidence in the integrity of the petition process? If they do nothing; we can count them as little more than checkers in a chicken house or as chickens in a counting house -- as lacking courage to effect reforms or to do what is right. Does their behavior qualify as just lazy? Or as being more private than public in nature?

It’s unfortunate that the Commission could not see what was at stake with their negative ruling. Fortunately, it’s easy for voters to write-in names of alternative candidates on NH ballots if they don’t care to vote for people whose names they see.

Released by Supporters of Peter Bearse for Congress, October 9, 2008