On March 14, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended the signature-gathering process for candidates for political office in his state to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, while at the same time reducing the number of signatures that will be required for each office this year by approximately 70%.
“Public health experts have been clear that one of the most common ways to communicate COVID-19 is through direct person to person contact, and we are doing everything in our immediate power to reduce unnecessary interactions,” Cuomo said in a news release. “This executive order modifies the election process in a way that both protects public health and ensures the democratic process remains healthy and strong regardless of the ongoing pandemic.”
On that same day, the chairs of the three minor political parties in Minnesota came together and submitted a joint letter titled “Urgent policy change request, to accommodate the COVID-19 emergency declaration made for Minnesota health/safety, as it applies to current minor political party petitioning practices and requirements.”
Despite multiple requests to top officials, none have responded. And now that the Minnesota Legislature has put itself into hiatus until April 14, it seems apparent that Gov. Tim Walz needs to quickly address this situation with an executive order akin to Cuomo’s.
To maintain fair elections, while recognizing that the health and safety of all Minnesotans is paramount during this outbreak, we hereby call on Gov. Walz, Secretary of State Steve Simon, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, and Senate and House elections committees to act immediately to suspend the physical petitioning requirement and/or the current filing deadline, currently set as June 2, 2020.
In exactly eight weeks, the state’s three minor political parties (the Libertarian, Independence-Alliance, and Green parties) will enter a limited two-week window for gathering petition signatures to secure ballot access. Each party must collect several thousand signatures during the last two weeks of May (and only then) to nominate and place candidates on the fall general election ballot. It is a process these three parties have completed consistently every election cycle for decades.
But an environment suddenly exists that makes this process a health risk, for both the individuals who do the petitioning and the citizens being approached and asked to sign a nominating petition. Petitioning requires constant face-to-face interaction.
For scope, the Libertarian Party of Minnesota alone intends to dispatch dozens of volunteers to go door-to-door to gather 2,000 signatures each for candidates for president and U.S. Senate, 500 signatures for each of six Minnesota legislative races planned, plus a 50% cushion. To find these 10,000 willing signatories usually requires knocking on over five times that many doors. In other states where petitioning is currently underway, people are avoiding petitioners (understandably so) which is more than tripling the number of door-knocking interactions needed.
An efficient solution already exists, if acted on, in proposed bills SF 752 and companion HF 708. Introduced in 2019 and amended in 2020, these bills remain stuck in committee. If passed, the legislation would provide that political parties that achieved over 1% in the last statewide vote would be allowed to put candidates onto ballots using internal party process, such as convention endorsement, or by filing fee, or with a different deadline that extends to mid-August (around the time of the state primary).
Enacting these proposals will change behaviors for the (only) three minor parties that exist in Minnesota. This will prevent hundreds of thousands of face-to-face interactions from happening soon.
We must not undermine fair elections or endanger public health. We look forward to working with state officials to thoughtfully prioritize the health, safety and rights of all Minnesotans.
Chris Holbrook is chair of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota. Phil Fuehrer is chair of the Independence-Alliance Party of Minnesota. Trahern Crews is chair of the Green Party of Minnesota.