Posted: June 8, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When Election Day comes, the Democrats want to kick the stuffing out of the Republicans, and the Republicans want to make mincemeat out of the Democrats, but on one thing they agree -- they want to do it without interference from the minor parties.

With the backing of both major parties, a bill dealing with ballot access was introduced Tuesday in Dover. It is uncomplicated legislation, only one sentence long, proposing that candidates must run only on the ticket of the party where they are registered.

The measure came about after a mini-summit between John D. Daniello, the Democratic state chair, and Terry A. Strine, the Republican state chair.

If it becomes law, the legislation would eliminate the sort of situation currently giving heartburn to the Democrats. Karen M. Hartley-Nagle, previously registered with the Independent Party of Delaware, switched her affiliation to Democrat and wants to run for the Congress in 2006 on both party lines.

There is nothing in state law to stop her. In fact, there is precedent for it as recently as the 2004 election, when Frank Infante ran for governor on both the Libertarian and Independent Party ballots, a tactic that still only got him 3 percent of the vote.

Under existing law, even if Hartley-Nagle failed to survive a Democratic primary against Dennis Spivack, as would be widely expected, she still would remain on the Independent Party ballot. It would give her another shot on Election Day at Spivack, who has enough challenges as it is in his long-shot race against U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a seven-term Republican and former governor.

A dual candidacy strikes Daniello as gaming the system and points out the need for the legislation. "It protects the two-party system," he said. "It stops people from double dipping."

In contrast, Hartley-Nagle believes the major parties ought not to be able to dictate the candidates for the minor parties. "I think the minor parties should have a voice and be able to say, we like this person," she said.

The major parties' keen interest in the ballot-access bill is evident in the selection of its bipartisan sponsors -- state Rep. Wayne A. Smith, the House Republican majority leader, and state Sen. Patricia M. Blevins, who is not only the chair of the Senate's Insurance & Elections Committee but also the state Democratic Party's treasurer.

In addition, the legislation was given one of the low numbers reserved for important measures. It was introduced in the House of Representatives as House Bill 9 with the sponsors firmly in concert with the party line.

"It stems from the fundamental belief that political parties have a role in our process," Smith said.

"It doesn't allow people to have two bites of the apple -- lose a primary and run on another ticket," Blevins said.

Meanwhile, the Democrats could have more candidates than Hartley-Nagle trying to crash their party. Recently Infante and Michael R. Dore, the 2004 Independent Party candidate for lieutenant governor who polled 1 percent of the vote, switched their registration to Democratic.

Both are thinking about running for the state legislature simultaneously on the Democratic and Independent Party tickets, according to Hartley-Nagle, with Infante looking at the seat held by state Sen. James T. Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat, and Dore considering the one held by state Rep. Diana M. McWilliams, a Brandywine Hundred Democrat.

The ballot-access bill was drafted without a clause specifying whether it would take effect in time for the 2006 election or wait until 2008. Until that language is added, the dual candidacies of Hartley-Nagle and potentially the others hang in the balance.

There seems little doubt, however, that the legislation will become law at some point. What is the purpose of a duopoly if not to perpetuate itself?