Greg Belfrage's interview with Rep. Steve Hickey this morning invites a number of conversations. Rep. Hickey said that citizens face a terrible time crunch in trying to review nominating petitions. This year, with partisan petitions due by March 25 and ballot-printing due by April 11 to allow early voting to commence April 18, citizens had a total of 16 days when they might file any sort of legal challenge against a petition they felt was invalid and have any chance of getting the Secretary of State or the courts to act.
On KELO-AM this morning, Rep. Hickey said we have two alternatives: shorten the nominating petition circulation period or shorten the early voting period. Rep. Hickey says he opposes the former and supports the latter.
Bob Mercer noted yesterday that shortening those periods isn't the only option; we could allow candidates to circulate petitions earlier, move the filing deadline earlier as well, and thus create a larger challenge window.
I see no harm in moving the petition start date earlier. If folks are ready to run, what's the harm in letting them circulate petitions during December? I do see some mild harm in requiring candidates to file earlier. Some candidates struggle with the decision to run. Some don't run into the right combination of circumstances and motivation to run until right before the deadline. Is it fair to require candidates to commit a month earlier?
I do agree that shortening the petition-circulating period is flat-out bad. Grassroots candidates need as much time as we can offer to get around their districts or around the state to contact voters, check their petitions, and make up for errors. Giving candidates less time to circulate only gives another advantage to the big-money candidates who can buy likely-voter lists and pay their circulators.
But what of shortening the early-voting period? I've expressed qualms about early voting before. Condensing the voting period puts candidates on a more even footing and reduces the number of voters who may cast their ballots before all information is available. But reducing the time for early voting inevitably means reducing the number of people who vote. Without some remedy to ensure that a shorter voting window does not disenfranchise lots of voters, I may have a hard time accepting a shorter voting time.
Let's also consider the extent of the ills each policy change would remedy. The circulation time affects every candidate. The early-voting time affects every voter. The petition challenge time in between affects only a small portion of candidates in the rare instances where attentive citizens identify flaws in ballots. That doesn't happen much, but when it does happen, a petition challenge affects the integrity of the petition, the ballot, and the whole electoral process, which is pretty darned important.
So readers, what change should we make in our electoral calendar? Or have we already struck the proper balance in the interests of candidates, voters, and electoral integrity?