I believe the voters deserve a choice when they go to the polls. I ended up running for County Commission in 2020 in large part because I saw too many instances in Knox County (Tennessee) of Republicans running unopposed in local races on the general election ballot. Now that I’m the Chair of the Hamblen County (Tennessee) Democratic Party, I’ve adopted this core principle of mine into the driving force for our mid-term strategy at the local level. Get as many Democrats on the ballot as possible for 2022!
With that goal in mind, I think we should make it as easy as possible for people to run for office. Just like we should make it as easy as possible for voters to be able to cast their votes in elections. So, I was interested to see the Tennessee Republican Party recently approved a fee schedule for candidates seeking to run in GOP primaries. They charge from $5,000 if you want to run for governor to $25 if you want to run for County Commission.
Having run myself, I knew that Tennessee only requires a petition with signatures from 25 registered voters in order to get on the ballot. I was surprised by the idea that an entity would charge a fee in order to get on the ballot. I mean, politically for me, it’s a boon that Republicans want to charge for ballot access, when the Democrats don’t. It allows me as the Chair of a local Democratic Party in Tennessee to draw a nice distinction in campaigns. I also have questions about what the Tennessee Republican Party would do to a stubborn candidate who successfully got the 25 signatures, but refused to pay the fee to the State Party. As far as the State of Tennessee is concerned, you get those signatures, you’re legally on the ballot. Is the Republican Party gonna force the person off the ballot because they didn’t pay a fee? I’ll provide the popcorn and we can watch what happens if someone ever takes that stand.
My local considerations and plans aside, though, I found it even more interesting and surprising that:
- 34 states require some candidates to file by fee. Thirteen of these 34 states have explicit indigent candidate exceptions.
- 13 states allow candidates to file by fee but also provide a filing by petition alternative.
- 16 states don’t require filing fees of any candidate for a state legislative seat.
That info is courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If you find yourself in the “both parties suck” camp, you won’t be surprised to hear that both sides charge fees for ballot access – Both states that are controlled by Democrats and states that are controlled by Republicans charge fees. Interestingly, though, from what I can tell from the NCSL link I provided above, almost all of the fees are state fees that go to the states, not the parties. The only exception is Arkansas, where both parties charge fees for their own benefit. I suspect there are more fees being charged by parties out there and I just haven’t run across them. But it’s sad that Tennessee, where we finally find ourselves near the top of some good rankings by being among the states that don’t charge fees for ballot access, is now one of the states where the one of the parties themselves are doing this money grab and making it harder for people to get on the ballot.
Any of you out there who may have read all the way to the end of this post that may know of other State political parties which charge fees for ballot access, I’d appreciate hearing about it.