BIDLACK | Crazy quilt of election laws defies logic as to who may run for what — where

Author: Hal Bidlack - August 10, 2018 - Updated: August 10, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

One of the great good fortunes in my life was the opportunity to meet and ultimately become a friend of the late John Denver. John was a remarkable man and a gifted songwriter and singer. He sold millions of records and was a kind and gentle soul. It was his music, way back when I was still in High School in Michigan, that first called me to Colorado. The Air Force was kind enough to send me to the American west, first to Cheyenne to serve as a “finger on the button” ICBM launch officer, and then to Colorado Springs to join the faculty at the Air Force Academy. From that day until today, there has never been a time I drove onto the Academy, looked at the majesty of the Rocky Mountain high in front of me, and was not touched by the wonder of the mountains, the beauty, the majesty of Colorado.

Which might be why a man running for governor of Wyoming may actually live in Colorado.

Recent Colorado Politics articles took a look at the issue. It seems Republican gubernatorial candidate Taylor Haynes owns a ranch on the Colorado/Wyoming border. If his house was placed just so, it might be possible for Mr. Haynes to take a nap on his couch in Colorado before walking into his Wyoming kitchen. OK, I made up that last part. But it took a judge’s order to allow Mr. Hayes to stay in the race.

On the face of it, it would seem like a nothing burger. Mr. Hayes asserts that while his ranch is astride the state line, he pays his taxes to Wyoming, has a Wyoming address, and more. Under Wyoming law, anyone wishing to be elected governor must live in the state for no less than the five years preceding the election. He asserts that he has, perhaps by spending most of his time in his kitchen.

The idea that a candidate should have ties to the location he or she seeks to represent goes way back, but in the United States, the rules vary widely. Hillary Clinton, for example, famously ran for a New York U.S. Senate seat, and won, despite not living in NY much before election day. She poked fun at herself by showing up to a debate carrying a carpet bag. Mitt Romney, after serving as governor of Massachusetts, remembered that Utah was actually home and moved back there in 2015, in time to run for the U.S. Senate from the Beehive state.

The above examples, and many more at your Google fingertips, illustrate an interesting result of a federalist system – your rights vary by location. Mr. Romney, for example, had he originally hailed from Wyoming instead of Utah, would not be able to run for governor in 2018. But he can run for Senate in Utah. If you want to run for the Colorado state House or Senate, you need to live in the district you seek to represent for at least 12 months before the election.

Other states have remarkably restrictive laws about gaining access to the ballot. In Alabama, for example, if you want to start a third party and get onto that state’s ballot, you need to collect enough signatures to match 3% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election – a very high bar – and to stay on the ballot, the new party must earn 20% of the vote for a statewide office. Only one party, the Libertarians, has achieved even the first requirement.

When I ran for the U.S. Congress in 2008, one of the first challenges I faced was literally, how do you run for Congress? Shout it out on a street corner? Put an ad in the personals section? As it happens, Colorado’s secretary of state has a pamphlet that lays out the steps.

Which brings us to important questions – how easy or hard should it be to run for office? And is it ok for your voting rights (in terms of the candidates available to you) to vary by the accident of geography as to where you call home? Therefore, is it time, as a nation of Americans rather than as citizens of 50 separate states, to standardize the requirements for office? Or shall your rights as a voter and as a potential candidate continue to change whenever you cross a state line? Mr. Haynes wants to know if he can leave his kitchen.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.