Legislation Paves Way for Third Political Parties

The Tennessee Senate is expected to take up a bill Monday night that would allow smaller political parties to get on the ballot more easily.

After the 2008 elections, several small political parties complained that to get on the ballot in Tennessee, they had to jump through too many hoops. A federal court agreed with them.

The court said it was OK to require a certain number of people to sign a qualifying petition, but said the timing and registration rules were too complicated.

So state lawmakers – all of whom consider themselves either Democrats or Republicans – are ready to vote to make it easier for the “third parties” to oppose them. Senate sponsor Mark Norris:

“Green Party, Libertarian Party … actually it was the Libertarian Party which filed suit in federal court, and challenged the current statutory framework. So… come one, come all.”

2012 is the next statewide election year. The new bill sets the stage for the movement known as the Tea Party to develop a coordinated statewide campaign.

One thing the new parties can’t do – they can’t use the words “independent” or “non-partisan” in their title.

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The new parties still have to get signatures equal to two point five percent of the total turnout in the most recent governor’s election. But they wouldn’t have to set up a statewide executive committee, for instance.

Norris says the bill answers the objections raised in the federal court decision.

“What we’re doing to lessen the burden, under the bill as currently proposed, is to streamline some of the filing requirements as it relates to time, and no longer require people to declare their party when they file.”

The bill is SB 935 Norris/HB 794 McCormick.

The suit that prompted the bill was brought by the state’s Constitution Party, its Green Party and Libertarian Party. Here’s the Constitution Party’s take on the old system.

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