Play By the Rules? (A Sorta Hypothetical Ballot Question)

In the state of Brickerstenia, the fifty-first state in the US, the state elections board has, for years, had an informal rule that petitions to place a candidate on the ballot for national elections must be submitted sorted by geographical district. It’s “informal” in the sense that it’s apprently never been formally approved by the state board, even though all the election board published instructions inform would-be candidates of the requirement.

The board also requires that petitions for this year’s ballot be submitted by September 1st at noon, and this rule is formal, voted and approved by the Board.

Candidate Ecks’s supporters arrive at the Board offices at 11:35 AM, with one large stack of papers. They frantically spread out and begin sorting pages into geographical districts to comply with the board’s sorting rule, but they do not finish until 12:45 PM – forty-five minutes after the deadline.

Is Mr. Ecks entitled to a place on the ballot in this November’s elections in Brickerstenia?

Yes. Mr. Ecks fulfilled all of the obligations that have been given the force of law. If an informal tradition needs to be enforced, then it should be approved through the formal process of the state election board. Merely publishing the requirement is insufficient.

What trap did I just walk into?

I would say so. If it’s not an official law approved by the board, then it’s just a rule of convenience. They had their petitions in on time and in accordance with the official elections laws.

My guess would be that since the candidates were informed of the requirement that petitions must be submitted in a sorted manner and that since they did not submit the petition until after the deadline, they are out of luck.

I would think that it’s safe to assume that the Board has the ability to reject petitions that are not followed as per their specification. Otherwise, they’d have to accept petitions inscribed on grains of rice (I doubt there’s a formal requirment that says that it must be on paper). That being said, the board can reject any petition that does not follow their instructions.

In the end, of course, it would probably go to the Brickerstenia courts.

Zev Steinhardt


The board also requires that petitions for this year’s ballot be submitted by September 1st at noon, and this rule is formal, voted and approved by the Board.

Candidate Ecks’s supporters arrive at the Board offices at 11:35 AM, with one large stack of papers. They frantically spread out and begin sorting pages into geographical districts to comply with the board’s sorting rule, but they do not finish until 12:45 PM – forty-five minutes after the deadline.


If, when you say “finish” here, you mean finish sorting and then submit the sorted ballots, then no, he’s not a valid candidate, because his petitions haven’t been submitted by noon.

Oooooh, good point, Cap’n.

I change my vote, since they didn’t actually submit them.

If the Board is able to arbitrarily set law without any oversight process, what would prevent it from publishing an unapproved specification that all petitions must be inscribed on grains of rice, and recited backwards while hopping on one foot?

Mr. Ecks was careless in not following all published specifications, but regardless, he fulfilled the legal requirements to be on the ballot.

On preview:

Captain Amazing, I read that as Mr. Ecks’ supporters arrived at 11:35 AM and submitted the paperwork, only to be told that they had not fulfilled all of the requirements. The delay imposed by the informal rule should not invalidate the fact that prior to the deadline, they had submitted their valid paperwork.

Because you have to trust the Board to make some reasonable decisions with the understanding that if they start making unreasonable decisions, then the authorities (the legislature in this case) will step in. The Board should have the authority to make reasonable regulations regarding how it conducts it’s business, provided, of course, that it doesn’t countermand already established law.

So, to answer your question of what would prevent the Board from establishing a rule that all petitions must be inscribed on grains of rice and recited backwards while hopping on one foot? Simple, the knowledge that (a) the Board is presumably made up on clear-headed individuals who wouldn’t create such a ridiculous regulation and (b) the knowledge that if they did, the legislature would surely step in and either (1) replace the Board members and/or (2) take away the Board’s ability to establish it’s own procedures. Since (presumably) the Board would like to run things it’s own way and not be micromanaged by the legislature, it’s in their own best interest to establish straightforward, easy-to-understand rules – including those about on what medium and in what manner petitions must be submitted.

Zev Steinhardt

But what if it arbitrarily makes regulations, reasonable or not? The requirement should be formally approved to have the force of law. As I said in my first post, merely publishing the requirement is insufficient.

That’s the key part. If the Board does not follow its own rules regarding how to create rules around submitting petitions, then they’re going to face such micromanagement by the legislature. Had they formally approved the requirement that petitions must be organized by geographical district, there wouldn’t be an issue at all.

Nader should not be on the ballot because he submitted the documents late.

Oops. Did I say Nader? I’m sorry, it was supposed to be the “sorta hypothetical” candidate.

As you might have guessed… it’s not so much a hypothetical as an actual:

A Sorted Affair.

I’d like to leave it in the hypothetical realm because when the real players are used, I can’t help but think that party loyalties color responses.

Does the legislation establishing the state elections board give them the authority to promulgate rules without a formal vote? That seems kind of slip-shod. Rules and Regs should be voted upon, not simply handed down from on high.

The legislature says that the Board may promulgate rules. It does not mention any particular voting process.

But the Board’s OWN rules set up a voting process.

If the Nalph Rader’s party was informed well ahead of time or the information was available in some obvious location (the helpful pamphlet So, you want to run for President in Brickersteinia for example) then while the ballots may be technically 45 minutes late the state elections clerk should glower menacingly at the submitters while they are sorting them but accept the petitions (unless historically they (the state) have been real jerks about it). I could understand if a court upheld the no-go decision though.

If the rule is not clearly posted and the only way the other “third” parties know about it is by having been burned or having submitted them early and rejected then it’s a BS requirement.
FTR. I wrote to my Representative and Senators informing them I was strictly against admitting Brickersteinia to the Union. But they never listen.

I agree that the key distinction is whether they attempted to submit before the noon deadline. If they tried and failed, they have grounds to appeal. If they didn’t try, then I think their grounds for appeal are pretty weak–they basically have to claim, in such a case, that the elections board defrauded them.

As for Nader, I mildly support his effort to get on the ballot, even though doing so is likely to hurt my own candidate’s chances. Part of the reason I want to see Bush out of office is that I think he’s eroding the fundamentals of a civil and democratic society; I want no part in doing that myself. Democrats who are doing their best to keep him off the ballot are repugnant IMO.


Here’s the problem, as I see it, with accepting the application: While it’s possible to enforce the rules equally for everyone, it’s impossible to ***bend ** * them equally for everyone. A rule such as a time limit leaves nothing open to interpretation. If it’s OK for one candidate to be 45 minutes late, can another be 2 hrs late? How about 1 day late? What’s the difference?

If the candidate’s supporters attempted to submit the forms before the noon deadline and were refused on grounds of “informal rules” but had complied with all the rules bearing the force of law then he should get the slot. That is a legally defensible position, as far as I am aware. An arguement could be made that the office workers who refused the submission did so on improper grounds and thus the submitting group should not be penalized.

As an ethical question, 99.44% of the task was complete and there is no evidence that the remaining .56% of the task was left incomplete due to malicious intent. I’d say this very minor negligence(which the group was willing to remedy with their own manpower and in a reasonable amount of time) should not merit the, IMHO, disproportionate penalty.


And if the time limit was the only rule in play here I would agree. The difference is the already “bent” nature of the process by virtue of the “informal rules”. The process has already been “bent” for the benefit of the voting board workers. The candidate’s supporters followed the original process requirements. Why should we allow the voting board’s “informal rules” to bend the process and make everyone else abide by them instead of making the board straighten up? Or at least not punish those who don’t bend to fit the “informal rules”. Noon was the deadline. They had all the paperwork, apparently correct in all aspects except this one, in the office before noon.


Funny, because I came back into this thread to change my position. I see exactly where **Bricker ** is coming from here. The candidate actually did comply with the official rules, since the paperwork was in the office on time. If there was no way for candidates to know that the sorting “rule” was unofficial, then an arbitrary obstacle was placed in their path.

One might ask about a similar scenario. Supposing the sorting was done at the local office of the candidate and they showed up a few minutes late at the election board office? Suppose there was a way to verify that the sorting effort is what made them late-- an unbiased observer like a notary public or something.

Does that change things? Perhaps the court could rule that it would be fair to assume “t” amount of time is needed to sort the papers and that the submission time should be assumed to be “noon + t” for everyone, and that the board should immediately delete any unofficail rules from the instructions or make the rules official.

Well, except for one thing; the “rules,” whether formal or informal, are VERY clearly spelled out (.pdf form – see page 6)on the Virginia State Board of Elections “Ballot Access Requirements” form, which is VERY easy to find with the simplest of searches (took me all of about 30 seconds). And there’s NO way to determine from that form that there are any rules which are formal or informal. It should be understood that every single one of them is to be followed, or submissions are ineligible. Certainly they understood the Noon on Friday, August 20th deadline!

I think the Democrats are wrong and acting like chickenshits. First of all, I know it’s only anecdotal, but every single person I know (including my own father) who has said they’ll vote for Nader if he can get on the ballot in their state, are former Bush supporters who would never vote for John Kerry anyway, who’d actually like an alternative they can tick off that will still allow them to feel as though they’ve participated in the voting process (as opposed to a no-vote). Secondly, it flies in the face of everything a democracy is supposed to stand for, and the Democrats should be supporting this process on principle alone. It’s what we’re supposed to be about!

Also, from the article (and I know it is probably missing quite a bit of detail), it sounds like, knowing the time deadline, they thought if they at least showed up on the premises before noon that that would count, and then they could just do their sorting on the floor once they were there. There’s really no excuse, especially on an issue this important, that they should have been running that close to the deadline anyway!