Saturday, February 27, 2010

Testimony in Support of Ballot Access

Here is the testimony that I gave to the Colorado State House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in support of HB 1271.

Testimony for House Judiciary Committee on HB 1271

February 18th, 2010

I thank the members of the House Judiciary Committee for this opportunity to speak in support of HB1271 and I applaud Representative Curry's effort to provide a more equitable approach to accessing the ballot, especially for those who choose to be an independent or unaffiliated candidate. This is a step in the right direction.

My name is Joelle Riddle and I am currently serving my first term as a county commissioner in La Plata County. I am registered as independent, which is listed as unaffiliated on Colorado's Voter Registration Form.

In November of last year, I contacted State Representative Kathleen Curry asking if she might be interested in proposing legislation to make it easier for unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot. I changed my affiliation from Democrat to independent with a desire to more effectively represent the diverse constituency and issues facing our community.

I assumed that the requirements for affiliation or in my case disaffiliation, would be similar to those who wished to vote in an election and was shocked to find out that I had missed the candidate deadline of June 15th by a little over a month. I immediately started researching opportunities that would afford me a place on the ballot. While some may say that it was a mistake that will ultimately cost me re-election, I say it was a statement of recognition and then action in response to my community and the issues we face.

Economic crisis, health care, property rights, land use, environmental protection, oil and gas extraction, and many other important issues seemed to have easily been placed in one camp or another---by one of the major political parties. In truth, these challenging issues do not belong to a party, but to the people who wrestle with them on a daily basis and to the leaders who must step out of a worn out system to work with the people to find real solutions that will move us forward.

For me, this has been one of the proudest decisions that I have made during my time in office. It has opened the door literally and figuratively as more and more people come to me with their concerns and ideas and know that I am not listening with partisan ears and will not react using partisan rules. I value differing opinions and the best solutions for all constituents, I have found that independence has opened up more possibilities for people to come together and achieve what's best for our community regardless of age, race, gender or political party. It is for these reasons that I urge you to support HB1271.

While the proposed bill has an effective date that will not benefit me in my effort for re-election, it is an opportunity for you as legislators to give voice to this important and growing movement that aims to offer more choice and a truer democracy to the people of Colorado.

Independents are uniquely positioned to lead the way out of partisan paralysis for the very reason that we are not part of an organized party and are poised to offer new ways of collaborating in order to bring more diverse solutions to the table. This is the time to stand up for democracy and for independent voters, and put personal or party interests aside and do what is best for everyone.

Currently in Colorado, independent or unaffiliated voters comprise approximately 34% (1,089,402) of registered voters. These people are unaffiliated with any political party, and in some counties outnumber registered Democrats and Republicans. Nationwide independents are now 42% of the electorate. Polls show that 41% of college students consider themselves independents as do 35% of African Americans under the age of 30. Why then does Colorado continue to have the strictest law in the nation regarding independent access to the ballot? It is indeed timely that we support this proposed change to a state statute that unfairly discriminates against candidates as well as those who wish to vote for candidates who may more accurately represent their ideals and desire for a more innovative approach to political solutions outside of party camps.

An editorial that appeared in The Denver Post on January 6, 2010 stated that: "Unaffiliated candidates running for public office in Colorado must declare their independence well in advance-more than a year-of an election. No other political party, whether major or minor, must follow the same stringent rule. It's an unfair situation."

The Denver Post goes on to explain: "Specifically, Colorado law states: "No person is eligible for designation by assembly as a candidate for nomination at any primary election (by a major political party) unless the person has been affiliated with the political party holding the assembly for a period of at least twelve months immediately preceding the date of the assembly...unless otherwise provided by party rules."

The law gave more leeway to political parties in 1988 after a court challenge. Basically, political parties can opt out of state law to meet their needs, and they have.

A person must be registered as a Democrat for one year before appearing as a candidate, according to the party's bylaws. Recently, however, Democrats circumvented the timeline to allow an unaffiliated candidate to switch parties in order to fill an empty seat."

The legislature has the opportunity to change this unfair situation---and this committee is the first step in that process.

It is rare to find a political news story that doesn't mention the frustration surrounding partisan politics. Indeed, Colorado's own Governor Ritter was quoted as saying that "By not running for re-election, I'll be able to make the touch and unpopular decisions that simply need to get made-free and clear of the sometimes bitter partisan politics of an election year." I think we as leaders have been chosen to make those decisions regardless of party or election year.

Democracy is a delicate balance of tension between elected officials and the people. You as elected leaders listen to your constituents' concerns and then craft bills to resolve those concerns. It is time that you give voice to those constituents who are asking for something different, outside of the partisan boundaries that often hold hostage the issues and concerns that matter to them the most.

I would like to end by quoting the Denver Post Editorial once again and concur that: "Restrictions should be the same for all groups, whether they be major players or the growing number of people who feel disenfranchised and are choosing to eschew political parties altogether."

I urge you all to vote in favor of HB1271.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Joelle Riddle