Getting Jill Stein on the ballot in Vermont

August 3, 2016

Isaac Kreisman reports on the efforts of activists in Vermont to get Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein on the ballot in November.

WITH THREE days to go before the August 1 deadline, a group of Vermont activists culminated their drive to secure a ballot line for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, delivering petitions to the Secretary of State's office in Montpelier.

The two-month effort was organized by a coalition initially led by the Burlington branch of the International Socialist Organization, but brought in increasing numbers of leftists from around the state. In Bernie Sanders' home state, where he carried the Democratic primary with over 80 percent of the vote, many are nevertheless disappointed by Sanders' attempts to wrangle his supporters into the Clinton campaign, and they are looking for a way to carry the political revolution forward.

With no Green Party in Vermont, the ballot access effort had to be coordinated outside of any existing political organization. The coalition began meeting in the middle of May, and began petitioning after the California primary, when it was clear that Sanders no longer had a chance at winning the nomination.

Dr. Jill Stein poses with supporters in Vermont
Dr. Jill Stein poses with supporters in Vermont (Jill Stein for President)

As we started talking with voters on the streets, excitement over the presumptive nominees for both the Democratic and Republican parties was literally non-existent. When petitioners asked voters what they thought of the election, the response was nearly always either a headshake or a laugh. While many expressed genuine terror at the prospect of a Trump presidency, the argument for ballot access for a third-party candidate was well received.

Voters' expectations had been raised by Sanders' call for a political revolution, and in mid-July, the interest in Stein exploded after Sanders' endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

A week before the July 12 endorsement speech, we received confirmation that Stein would be in Burlington to speak on July 15. With such a short window to plan and build the event, we expected a crowd of 50 to 100. After Sanders' address left many of his supporters angry and confused, though, it became clear that Stein had a much bigger audience.

On the night of Stein's speech, people from all over the state started filling up the meeting room an hour before she was due to arrive. By the time Stein entered the room to thundering applause, every inch of the hall was filled with around 250 people. The event was electric, as Stein and local speakers drew links between racism, imperialism and environmental destruction, denounced both ruling-class parties, and called for revolution.

For the rest of July, the petitioning campaign took off, with individuals all over the state pitching in.

"It's been incredible how people from around the state have really stepped up, have gone and visited their neighbors in small towns in every corner of Vermont," said Peter Spitzform, an activist in the Stein ballot-access coalition and a librarian at the University of Vermont. "We're getting all of these petitions mailed in from really small towns all over the state. I have been really moved by the effort that people have put in, but also how symbolic that is of the discontent with the two corporate parties. It's become a legitimate statewide effort."

ALTHOUGH GETTING on the ballot in Vermont isn't prohibitively difficult, unlike other states, there are still significant hurdles.

First, because the Green Party is not an official party in the state, petitioners needed to collect a minimum of 1,000 valid signatures. While this number may pale in comparison to signature requirements in larger states, Vermont has a largely rural population, and its largest city, Burlington, has just over 40,000 residents. Reaching large numbers of registered voters in a time-efficient way is challenging, and many of the signatures collected inevitably turned out to be invalid, likely as a result of people not actually being registered to vote.

Volunteers collected around 2,000 signatures to ensure that we would meet the minimum number of valid signatures, a task that, by our rough estimate, required well over 100 hours of active petitioning. After these signatures were collected, they needed to be either driven or faxed to the town clerk for each town of residence represented by the signatures, so that each town could confirm which signatures were valid. For us, that meant validating signatures with over 70 individual town clerks, a complicated and tedious bureaucratic task that seems absurd in the age of the Internet.

With the ballot access campaign finished, Stein supporters can turn their attention toward November and toward organizing that can help build an independent electoral alternative for the left.

The coalition that formed around petitioning was a positive step for the Vermont left to come together and build relationships, discuss politics and strategize about the next steps necessary for building organizations that make a principled break from both parties of the ruling class. The campaign showed that even small victories in the electoral struggle, such as ballot access, take a great deal of organization and commitment, but that we have both the forces and the political opening to make these efforts worthwhile.

With the Republicans facing an internal crisis and the Democrats trying to sell Hillary Clinton to an unenthusiastic base, the Stein campaign presents an opportunity for the left to cohere around a platform worth fighting for.

"Stein addresses many of the shortcomings in Bernie's platform and has thought through concrete ways to implement policies like a Green New Deal and free tuition," said Stein volunteer and Montpelier resident Elizabeth Parker. "While Jill Stein says we need to cut military spending by half, reducing the military-industrial complex never was part of Sanders' stump speech."

The Stein campaign can be a part of reaching out to others who are tired of being shamed and herded into supporting a Democratic party that represents the interests of Wall Street, war profiteers, private prisons and energy corporations.

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