Sarah Stannard is a candidate for Congress in the newly created 6th Congressional District. She's running as an independent candidate against a system she sees as gridlocked and unresponsive. What she's found is that the system is specifically designed to be unresponsive to her.
Put simply, the 55-year-old Scottsdale woman is the latest in a long line of would-be politicos to discover how state election laws favor Democrats and Republicans. She finds one provision particularly onerous: Although voter lists are routinely provided to the Democrats, Republicans and all other parties that have qualified for "ballot status" (this year the Libertarians) free of charge, an independent candidate seeking the same lists must pay tens of thousands of dollars for them.
Furthermore, the Arizona State Legislature has made it a misdemeanor for anyone in possession of the voter lists to give all or part of the lists away. So no fair-minded Republican or Democratic rival could lend Stannard a copy of the lists without breaking the law. She estimates that to get the appropriate lists for her race--lists that are invaluable for such electioneering purposes as identifying likely supporters and contributors--would cost her between $16,000 and $32,000.
Most of her party-affiliated opponents in the race have already amassed considerable war chests. On the GOP side, Doug Wead has reported more than $91,000 in contributions; Mike Meyer, more than $40,000; and latecomer Philip MacDonnell, $1,600. Democratic rivals Alan Stephens and Karan English reported more than $36,000 and $21,000, respectively. Stannard says her campaign is working off the $5,000 she and her husband contributed.
Under the circumstances, purchasing the lists seemed imprudent. So she did the American thing: She sued. On July 10, her husband, Fred, a Scottsdale attorney and a Republican, filed suit against Arizona Secretary of State Dick Mahoney and the eight county recorders who serve the precincts contained in District 6.
The suit, which challenges the constitutionality of the provision that restricts access to the lists, asks that the county recorders make the lists available, without charge, to Sarah Stannard immediately. It alleges that every day she is deprived of the lists impairs her ability to compete with her rivals and violates her 14th Amendment right to due process and equal protection.
"It's very simple," she says. "The parties have the list. I don't have the list. They've had it since early last month. They've got that much of a head start on me. If you're without funds, you're without access to the political process."
As it is, Stannard won't appear on the ballot until the November 3 general election--assuming she gathers enough signatures after the September 8 primary.
Marilyn Tithchsinger, a spokeswoman for the Libertarian party, is sympathetic.
"If you are anything other than a Democrat or Republican, you cannot work in a polling place on election day," Tithchsinger says. "An independent cannot be a deputy registrar--you can't even register people to vote or register people to absentee-vote. Everything is skewed toward Democrats and Republicans." Tithchsinger says the Libertarians didn't collect enough signatures to obtain ballot status in 1990 and were faced with the same problem as Stannard's. "If we wanted a voter list, we'd have to pay for it," she says. "Just because we're not a Democrat or Republican. The people in power make laws to keep them in power. And the goal is to keep you off the ballot. It's just more rules that are passed by the dominant parties to keep people from participating."
Sam Vagenas, a spokesman for Secretary of State Mahoney's office, agrees that the legislature has written an election code that favors the status quo. But he says the Secretary of State's Office can't give Stannard the information she's asked for because it doesn't have it. At least not the important stuff.
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Vagenas explains that Arizona law prohibits the county recorders from turning over the complete lists to the Secretary of State's Office. What the secretary of state has is a truncated list that is useful for cross-checking names to ensure that a voter isn't registered in two counties, but that is virtually useless as a campaign tool.
"We have a voters' file, but we don't have the more interesting things like party and precinct designations and voter history," he says. "That pretty much emasculates our list in terms of electioneering. We consider [the list] a public record. For minimal cost, they can have everything we have. But frequently when people find out how limited our file is, then they decide they'd rather not."
Vagenas says his office would like to put the full voter lists "on-line" so the public could get access through computers.
In her two-page campaign biography, Stannard plugs William Greider's recent best seller, Who Will Tell the People, as a book every voter should read. "In a democracy, everyone is free to join the argument, or so it is said in civic mythology," Greider writes. "During the last generation, a 'new politics' has enveloped government that guarantees the exclusion of most Americans from the debate--the expensive politics of facts and information."
If Sarah Stannard's lawsuit is successful, the debate may get a little cheaper.