Maryland's law regulating the ability of new political parties to gain a place on the election ballot is "virtually the most restrictive in the country," according to Maryland Green Party member Mike Miller at a recent meeting of the party's Baltimore chapter. "Current law makes the process of registering a new party and its candidates so arduous," he said, "that it effectively narrows voters' choices at the polls, undermining Maryland's ability to hold fully fair and democratic elections."
Mr. Miller, of Prince George's County, was speaking at the Baltimore Greens' regular monthly meeting, held March 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Resurgam Gallery, 910 South Charles Street. Fifteen local activists attended the meeting.
Meeting moderator Alison Gibbons opened the meeting by reviewing the guiding principles of the Green Party, which she said include dedication to the promotion of ecologically sound social and governmental policies, insistence on creation of social justice, maximum involvement of average citizens in grassroots democracy, and promotion of the ideals of nonviolence.
Mr. Miller then outlined the steps necessary to get a new party included in Maryland's electoral process. "A petition signed by at least ten thousand registered voters has to be deposited with the state's Administrative Board of Election Laws just to get the government to recognize the existence of the party," he said. "Then the party must circulate an additional petition for each candidate it wishes to place on the ballot.
"The logistics of the process simply overwhelm small, new parties, a situation that some observers believe violates the international human rights standards set forth in the Helsinki Accords signed by the United States in 1975," he maintained. "After all, if just a hundred people in Maryland want to start a new political party, they ought to be free to do so. When your choices in the voting booth have been so limited by those people already in power, then your fundamental right to vote has been curtailed."
Mr. Miller described a current bill in the General Assembly, offered by Democratic Senator Paul Pinsky, that would lower by two thirds the number of signatures needed on small party candidates' petitions. "I urge everyone to call their state senators and ask them to vote in favor of S.B. 27, because this bill will help open up Maryland's elections to a greater diversity of opinions and programs," Mr. Miller said. He felt there is "a good chance" that the measure will pass during the current legislative session. An identical bill failed to pass last year by only one vote.
The chapter plans to set up a booth at the Johns Hopkins University Fair from April 17 to l9 to ask registered voters to sign their party's electoral petition.
The chapter also made plans to recruit members on local college campuses. Kat Walsh, who has studied and taught at UMBC, volunteered to be the Green Party's outreach coordinator for local college campuses.