We’re not sure what to make of the platform of Maryland’s newest political party, which dedicates itself to a new socialistic ideal in the relation of labor and capital, the promotion of natural beauty and pacifism in foreign affairs — along with a promise not to do anything to help President Donald Trump win a second term. And we’re really not sure that the name — the Bread and Roses Party — is going to catch on. But a lawsuit filed this week by its founder, University of Maryland professor Jerome Segal, gets at some of the subtle but important ways Maryland laws are designed to protect the party in power at the expense of new ideas or checks and balances. Gov. Larry Hogan probably doesn’t want to get near the "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” philosophy Bread and Roses represents, but the objections Mr. Segal is raising to certain aspects of Maryland law in his effort to get on November’s ballot are right up the Republican’s alley.
Mr. Segal is fighting the state on two fronts. First, he is challenging the State Board of Elections’ conclusion that Bread and Roses’ petition for recognition as a minor party fell just short of the 10,000 needed to allow it to nominate candidates for all federal, state and local offices on the ballot this year. The party turned in nearly twice as many signatures as necessary, but, in a development that should be familiar to anyone who has tried to petition someone or something onto the ballot in Maryland, about half of them were rejected, leaving the party just 227 short. In particular, Mr. Segal claims that about 1,200 of them were disqualified simply because signers did not include their middle initials — a perennial frustration of petition gatherers in this state.
He and the various other people who have complained about that over the years are absolutely right that the standard is absurd. Petitions include a variety of other information to validate a signer’s identity, including the address and birth date. But the state’s Court of Appeals has ruled that state law on that point is clear — a name on a petition must exactly match what is in the voter records or contain the correct surname and either the full first or middle name and the initial of any other name. The fact that an entry contains sufficient cumulative information to confirm a signer’s identity is irrelevant, the court found in a 2011 case related to efforts by the Green and Libertarian parties to regain their certification. In as much as we would be tempted to say the court’s decision lacks common sense, we have to concede that it probably does reflect the will of the General Assembly — there has been no indication over the years that its majority is interested in making it any easier for voters to petition its acts to referendum or form new political parties with guaranteed ballot access.
Mr. Segal’s second complaint is about Maryland’s “sour grapes” law, which prevents a candidate who loses a party primary from becoming the nominee of another party in the same general election. We’re hardly unique in having such a statute — 47 states do. Maryland’s statute has come up at least once before, in 1986 when the defeated incumbent state’s attorney in Prince George’s County contemplated trying to switch parties and run as a Republican but chose not to try in deference to the law. Similar laws have repeatedly been upheld in other states.
We are by no means prepared to agree with Mr. Segal that voters of the state would be irreparably harmed if he’s not on the ballot against Sen. Ben Cardin this fall, but he does have a point in criticizing the sour grapes rule, which mainly serves the purpose of protecting the interests of political parties at the expense of the broader electorate. Let’s be honest, most of the time a “sore loser” campaign would fail — but there are circumstances when it might be just what voters need. Take, for example, a crowded Baltimore mayoral race. Would voters be better served if the second-place Democrat could run in the general election against the party’s nominee — say, as a candidate for the Greens, or Bread and Roses, or some yet to be created party — rather than some unknown and hopelessly overmatched Republican? Additionally, some academic research has concluded that such laws contribute to political polarization by favoring candidates who appeal to their parties’ extremes at the expense of centrists.
Here’s where Governor Hogan’s interests and Mr. Segal’s align. The laws Mr. Segal is targeting serve in small but meaningful ways to protect the apparatus of the dominant political party (historically, Democrats) from internal and external challenges in the form of rogue candidates, new political parties or voter referendums. It’s of a piece with the party’s use of gerrymandering to cement its majorities in the legislature and congressional delegation. Mr. Hogan has worked hard (and made much political hay) with his fight against gerrymandering. He should take up Mr. Segal’s causes, too.