August 28, 2010

The nonpartisan primary election hurdle

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics,Neighbor Island Politics — Doug @ 8:41 am

According to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, a nonpartisan candidate for House District 4 has complained to the Office of Elections about the primary election process and the burdens it places on nonpartisan candidates in order to advance to the general election. It’s an interesting story, especially this:

[In a letter to the Chief Elections Officer the candidate] says that no nonpartisan candidate in Hawaii’s history has ever advanced to public office in a partisan race.

However, that is not the same as arguing that “no nonpartisan candidate in Hawaii’s history has ever advanced to the general election,” which, in my opinion, more accurately describes the crux of the candidate’s complaint. I was unsure if that had ever happened, so I started looking through the general election results from the Office of Elections.

As it turns out, in 2006, at the General Election there was a nonpartisan candidate on the ballot for House District 30. That candidate received only 3.0% of the votes cast, trailing the Republican, the Democrat, and “blank votes.” (But beating the Green Party candidate.) What is more interesting, however, is that in reviewing the 2006 primary election you’ll find that the nonpartisan candidate only got 6(!) votes. According to the law, in failing to get at least 10% of the votes cast at the primary election for that race or, alternatively, failing to get at least as many votes as any partisan candidate in that primary race, that nonpartisan candidate should not have advanced to the general election. Weird. UPDATE: Actually, not so weird. See the comment from Dave Smith.

Those oddities aside, I am sympathetic to the argument that the process is too burdensome for nonpartisan candidates. I’m not so sure what legal argument the complainant intends to make for a claim of the process being unconstitutional, though. The “case notes” in the HRS section cited above don’t bode well for that…

This disparity partially explains the “Free Energy,” “Natural Law,” “Best Party,” and other fringe parties we occasionally seen on the ballot. All it takes to start a political party is a petition, at least for the first time out. After that “free ride” election, such parties face disqualification if they don’t field candidates and get enough votes. But, at least for the first election, candidates of such fringe parties are guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot.


  1. Didn’t the nonpartisan candidate of which you speak get into the general election by beating the Green Party candidate? At one time the Green Party pulled in enough votes to be recognized as an established party and that may still have been the case in 2006.

    Comment by Dave Smith — August 28, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

  2. @Dave Smith You are correct. I even noted that result in the general election portion of my post, but somehow didn’t recognize the same outcome in the primary results. D’oh! A 6-3 vote tally, however pathetic, was still enough to advance…

    Comment by Doug — August 29, 2010 @ 3:49 am

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