Kicking Mary Starrett off the ballot

Russell Sadler

No one really believes state election law is designed to increase voter participation. Election law is deliberately designed to deliver predictable votes for Republican and Democratic candidates. Anyone else has more hurdles to jump to get on the ballot in the first place. After all, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature write the election laws.

So, it should surprise no one that former Republican legislator and West Linn attorney Kelly Clark made a formal complaint against the Constitution Party. Clark claims that the party did not follow proper procedure in nominating their gubernatorial candidate, Mary Starrett. He wants her removed from the ballot.

In a complaint filed with the State Elections Division, Clark charges the Constitution Party failed to publish notices of its nominating convention in newspapers of “general circulation” at least 10 days before it occurred in June.

Apparently officials of the Constitution Party published the required notices 10 days before the county meetings at which delegates to the June Convention were chosen.

These notices once had a purpose. Published notice of a nominating convention is designed to prevent a small clique from taking over a party and perpetuating itself by nominating candidates in obscurely scheduled meetings.

In the Age of the Internet, demographically fragmented media audiences and plunging newspaper circulation, however, the concept of reaching people with newspapers of “general circulation” is increasingly obsolete.

Clark has provided no evidence the Constitution Party deliberately evaded the notice requirement. On the contrary, when rumors that Starrett, a former television anchor and anti-abortion activist, might become the Constitution Party’s nominee, the June 3 convention got far more advance publicity that it would have if less well-known candidates had been involved.

So what’s really going on here?

Oregon Republicans have grudgingly nominated Ron Saxton, their first business-oriented candidate in many elections. Saxton has some chance of winning the votes of independents and Democrats. That is crucial to any Republican, because their party only represents about one-third of the state’s registered voters. A Republican needs every Republican vote and substantial crossover voters.

In recent years, Republican candidates for governor -- Kevin Mannix, Bill Sizemore, et al -- have been too extreme or unqualified to attract the crucial crossover vote. A more traditional business-oriented Republican who can win the crossover vote, often can’t hold the vote of the “social conservative” Republicans who believe in black or white choices. No shades of gray for them. If any significant number of far right Republicans cast their ballots for a splinter party candidate, the Democrat wins, often by a plurality.

That’s what happened to Republican Dave Frohnmayer in 1991. Al Mobley, a Christian Nationalist and anti-abortion activist ran as a third party candidate and Democrat Barbara Roberts won the governor’s race with less than 50 percent of the vote.

The Saxton campaign says it knew nothing about the challenge to the Constitution Party’s nomination of Starrett. I’m inclined to believe that. Clark has become Oregon’s “designated hit man” for national, not state, Republican interests. Clark has been a reliable Oregon attorney for national social conservative issues like abortion. He was the attorney challenging Multnomah County’s effort to file marriages for homosexuals which national Republicans wanted to use to “stir up their base.”

Who is financing Clark? We’ll never know for sure. National Republican interests launder their contributions through sympathetic “educational” organizations that do not have to disclose their contributors. Then these organizations pay Clark who hides their identities behind “attorney-client confidentiality.”

This is a deliberate evasion of disclosure laws. Its legality is a gray area even black and white Republicans appreciate. Call it “funnel-the-money.”

So what will happen?

If the Elections Division follows precedent, they will hold that the Constitution Party inadvertently failed to follow the proper procedure for notice of a nominating convention. This is a civil violation and the party will be fined. It is unlikely the Elections Division will overturn the results of the party’s convention because there is no evidence of deliberate evasion. That will not be enough for Clark. He will go to court and demand that Starrett’s name be removed or her results not be counted.

Republicans are busily transforming our election laws. For decades they were interpreted broadly to insure that voters choices were recognized and properly recorded even if it took elections officials extra effort. Now Republicans want narrow, legalistic interpretations when it suits their interests. They want to disqualify candidates and voters before votes are cast. They want narrow interpretations that refuse to count ballots after they are cast. Since the 2000 presidential election, the Republicans have learned that is how to win elections without necessarily having a majority of votes.

  • Jim (unverified)

    I assume you wrote a similar piece when Democrats kept Nader off the ballot in 2004?

  • sheba (unverified)

    I assume you wrote a similar piece when Democrats kept Nader off the ballot in 2004?

    er, what?!?

    Here's the difference. The Constitution Party is a ballot-qualified minor party, so they get to nominate by convention. When Nader ran in 2004, he had to throw his own private nominating party. And please recall that it was Republicans who were working to get Nader on the ballot, through phone banking support from conservative organizations like the Oregon Family Council and Citizens for a Sound Economy ( source). Even then, Ralph couldn't get a big enough turnout at his own well-publicized self-nominating conventions (he tried twice) to make the ballot. After three months of trying, he still came up short on signatures.

    Nice try, though.

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    Yes, Sheba, that sounds about what I wrote at the time.

    Make no mistake thouugh. Although the Republicans were encouraging Nader, the Democrats were doing all they could to discourage people from attending Nader's nominating convention.

    It's my theory that many people no longer vote because they do not like the candidiates of the two parties and feel powerless to do anything about it -- so they drop out. Perhaps that's not good or justifiable, but I still think that's what's motivating many political dropouts. We ignore their frustration at our peril.

    Kari made it clear when he began posting this column that it was written by an independent, not necessarily a Democrat.

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    There's a long, long way from...

    the Democrats were doing all they could to discourage people from attending Nader's nominating convention

    Republicans want narrow, legalistic interpretations when it suits their interests. They want to disqualify candidates and voters before votes are cast. They want narrow interpretations that refuse to count ballots after they are cast.

    The first is just politics - talking to people, making your case. The second is a subversion of democracy.

    And there's one more thing: The Nader effort was rife with fraud, most of it appearing to come from Republicans. From August 19, 2004 - right here on BlueOregon:

    This just in, from Medford's KTVL-10. A Nader petition circulator admits that he was hired by the Republican National Committee.

    Here's a recap from BlueOregon's first month of existence... The Annals of Ralph Nader Ballot Fraud (BREAKING NEWS) Nader Ballot Fraud, Part 2 Nader Ballot Fraud, Part 3 (EXCLUSIVE) GOP Helping Nader Circulate Petitions Dead eleven years; signs Nader petition Ralph Nader Fails to Qualify for Oregon Ballot Breaking News: Nader on the Ballot Breaking News - Nader Update

  • KISS (unverified)

    I wonder if we had one ballot in November and no primaries and the majority winner gets the prise, would we be better off? Primaries are expensive and every cockamamie referendum is given another chance to succeed. Maybe a set of rules governing who would be on the ballot is necessary to screen out the gadflies and silly-willies. The 2 party system is a horror of Good-Ol'-Boys doing their's all about no choice. I wish like minds would do a thoughtful thread on Blue Oregon covering this subject.

  • sheba (unverified)


    Fair enough. It is certainly true that Democrats didn't want Nader on the ballot in '04. At the same time, the nomination was Nader's to earn or not, and he failed to earn it, fair and square. It appeared that Nader had lost much of the rock-star status he had demonstrated among progressives in 2000 (true confessions: although I am a registered Dem, I was one of the 10,000-plus who paid to see Nader at the Memorial Coliseum in fall 2000, and yes, I did vote for him that year. Boy, have I learned my lesson!). After he was able to draw huge paying crowds in 2000, he was unable, on his own, to pull in 1,000 signing attendees at nominating conventions (twice). IIRC he even blamed one of the failed signature attempts on Portlanders' preference for staying home and watching basketball on the teevee. Yeesh.

    I guess the point I was making was that there is a distinction between Nader's 2004 presidential bid and Starrett's 2006 gubernatorial bid. Nader was snubbed by the Pacific Green Party in 2004 and was trying to make an end run around the party's snubbing with his own independent nominating convention (with the not-so-tacit help of the Republicans through organizations like CSE and OFC); whereas Starrett is running with the blessings of the Constitution Party and earned the party's nod without being propped up by either of the two major parties.

    My .02, which as usual is more like a buck fifty. :)

  • sheba (unverified)

    okay, two more cents....

    By the way, speaking of hypocrisy: Let's not forget that Kelly Clark has done plenty of work with the right-wing, Republican-aligned Oregon Family Council; and it was the OFC who lent its phone banking support to Nader in a vain attempt to get enough signing folks to get him on the '04 ballot. Pot, kettle.

    And, just for fun, let's not forget that a lot of the hand-wringing about third-party candidates would look completely different if we had instant runnoff voting. What do you suppose Mr. Clark would be saying about Starrett's nomination if we had IRV? He'd probably be praising her to the skies, knowing that virtually all of her supporters would select Saxton as a #2 choice.

    Just sayin'....

  • JB Eads (unverified)

    No one really believes state election law is designed to increase voter participation.

    I believe Vote-by-mail is designed to increase voter participation, and does not generally favor one party over another.

    I also believe that the one state that has Russell's prefered open primary system (see last week's post), Louisiana, enacted that system specifically to benefit the political ambitions of its main booster, convicted racketeer and former Governor Edwin Edwards. Who wouldn't want to tap that Louisana good government magic, right?

  • David Wright (unverified)


    That is crucial to any Republican, because their party only represents about one-third of the state’s registered voters. A Republican needs every Republican vote and substantial crossover voters.

    That's true of both Republicans and Democrats, in a two-candidate race. You make it sound like the Republican party has so little support compared to the Democratic party, when they're more-or-less equivalent statewide. ;-)

    But as you pointed out, the math changes significantly with more than two candidates in the race. That's what makes significant splinter candidates so dangerous to both parties. It's a huge motivation, as you've said, for trying to minimize their impact in a race.


    There's nothing wrong with catching somebody on a technicality to disqualify them. That's not a "subversion of democracy", it's a matter of enforcing the law. Perhaps the law should be changed, but until it is, it should be enforced.

    The problem here is Clark didn't "catch" anybody. His is a bogus complaint, and serves only to harass a legitimate candidate.

    Ironic, isn't it, that the kind of folks who push so strongly for tort reform (and variations on that theme) because of nuisance lawsuits for business have no problem using nuisance lawsuits for politics. ;-)

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    I really don't favor an open primary, JB.

    My personal -- as opposed to professional -- prejudices run along the lines of KISS's post above.

  • JB Eads (unverified)

    This is the statement from last week that I inferred was an argument for open primaries: Frustrated by a closed primary system that deliberately prevents them from influencing the candidates presented to them in November elections, these independents have stayed away from the polls...."

    Happy to stand corrected.

  • 16yearlodopinion (unverified)

    Just a little update,

    The state elections office has decided to keep Starrett on the ballot and clark is going to go to court to try to get her kicked out. Heres the link to the oregonian story

  • (Show?)

    the cp's position is that they don't even HOLD a nominating convention, and even if their delegate selection meeting constitutes one (which is not at all clear), they claim to have placed notices for that as the rules would apply. There's no rule for them to violate; they don't have a convention, and don't appear to have to.

    Clark was told this once already; he is making the exact same failed argument here.

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)

    Since this thread is a rehash of the earlier Starett thread, I guess we're all entitled to repeat ourselves ...

    What was Kelly Clark, a former Republican legislator thinking?

    He files an election complaint with the Democratic Secretary of State, who punts the issue over to the Democratic Attorney General, who tells the former Republican legislator that the Democratic Secretary of State will not disqualify a Constitutional Party candidate, whose appearance on the ballot will only help re-elect the Democratic Governor.

    Republicans like Clark have yet to recognize and appreciate the power than comes with owning every statewide office, especially those that can re-draw legislative districts, determine whether an initiative qualifies for the ballot, and whether a candidate remains on the ballot.

    Republicans are busily transforming our election laws.

    Not very well in Oregon, with Dem's solidly in control of arguably the most important elected official in the state - The Secretary of State, who initially decides if a prospective petition violates the "one-subject rule", enforces election laws, and draws legislative district boundaries.

    • Wes
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    Russell's post is also inaccurate--the Constitution Party did not publish its notices as required by state law. The paragraph about the Internet is irrelevant--as long as the law states you must publish notice of a nominating convention, you need to to so.

    The rationale given by the head of the party sounds specious to me--I think they just screwed up. But Torridjoe nails the argument exactly.

    Whether Clark is being secretly funded by Saxton is another matter, but the law here is pretty clear.

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    I don't think they screwed up, Paul. They consciously opted to publish notice for the public meeting, but did not for the one that was private. Plus they were working from the letter of July 2005 that declared their process to be for them to decide, and their process doesn't have a nominating convention for candidates (just delegates).

    If they did indeed publish notices in March for the April meeting, I'd say they followed not only the letter, but bent over backwards to fulfill the spirit of the law as well.

  • (Show?)

    (i can't believe i'm about to quote Albany Democrat-Herald editor Hasso Herring favorably...)

    Hasso pointed out that the CP, with 0.0002% of Oregon voters behind them (my commie math) can get Starrett on the ballott with little more than a lunch meeting (or was it breakfast). meanwhile, Westlund, while not overwhelming but clearly a larger base of support, has to move heaven and earth just because he doesn't have a pissant "party" to lower his hurdle.

    Hasso's conclusion that open primaries would fix this is the wrong answer, of course (wrong being defined both as "stupid" and "i disagree strengorously"). we need a better mechanism for non-aligned candidates while preserving the right of a party to chose its nominee without outside interference. i'm thinking voter-owned elections & instant runoff voting might do that trick (of course it's my solution to most of our electoral problems, possibly because the combination is so frikkin great).

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    Westlund, while not overwhelming but clearly a larger base of support, has to move heaven and earth

    Hmmm.... not exactly. He did quite TWICE as many signatures as he needed.

    That said, I do think we should make it easier to create parties in Oregon -- and then have fusion voting to make those parties meaningful vehicles for voter organizing.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    I think we should have a Parliamentary system. It sure would be nice to watch the Governor or President have to answer an actual question from a lawmaker on TV rather than those meatballs the press throws at them now. It would also make 2 or 3 parties HAVE to work together rather than this partisan load of crap we've got now.

  • Richard Winger (unverified)

    Although Nader's two attempts to attract 1,000 voters to a meeting both failed, his petition (an alternate method when one doesn't or can't use the 1,000-person meeting) succeeded, according to Oregon's generally non-partisan county clerks. It was the Secretary of State adding new rules that invalidated Nader's petition. Also it was Democrats in the legislature in 2005 who forced through a bill making it far more difficult for an independent candidate to get on the ballot. In the Senate, that bill passed Committee on a party line vote, with all Republicans opposing it.

    Oregon is one of only 4 states that refused to count Nader's write-ins. The Federal Election Commission's official November 2004 election returns show that Nader received votes in all states except Hawaii, Oklahoma (both if which ban write-ins), Ohio and Oregon. Ohio didn't count Nader write-ins because he missed the early September deadline for filing as a write-in candidate. But Oregon didn't count Nader write-ins because a law passed in 1999 says they don't need to be counted unless the computer thinks the write-in candidate might have won the election. No one in Oregon seems to know about this practice, which violates the principle that all voters should be treated alike...they should all have their votes counted.

  • (Show?)

    Glad Rich posted about Bradley's abuse of power against Nader in '04. I did not vote for N then or in 2000, though I did in 1996 because I was so disgusted by Clinton's triangulation, but it was still an abuse of power -- I had voted for Bradley when he was up previously but made a write-in in 2004 because I was disgusted at the abuse of power.

    It is possible to "enforce rules" in abusive ways, e.g. with geographical selectivity, such as characterized many of K. Blackwell's disfranchisement tactics in Ohio and similar efforts around the country. It is also possible to devise byzantinely arcane rules such that the rules themselves are abusive, as is the case with NY state's laws.

    Didn't know about the write-in law. It's not that one's vote isn't counted, it's that it isn't reported which feeds into the legally bizarre party duopoly, which treats the major parties, actually private associations, as public institutions for some purposes but not others.

    Russell, you may be right about some voters being discouraged by lack of choices that reflect their preferences but I believe there is polling that shows that non-voters asked a "who would you have voted for if you had voted" question tend to track pretty closely to actual results. Maybe Paul G. could comment as I am not sure this is right and certainly couldn't give a cite.

    Presumably Ben Westlund could have formed a party and had a nominating convention with a thousand people without too much difficulty -- I'd guess he took the route he did because the signature gathering process would put his name before more folks at a person-to-person level.


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